Jan. 2, 2013
Good deeds sometimes have an impact that goes beyond the lives of people they initially touch.
It's often called "paying it forward."
Michael Bierman, a 2005 graduate of Buena Vista University, had no idea that the time he volunteered in the "BV Buddies" program during his college days as a mentor in the after-school program at the Storm Lake Middle School would have any impact beyond the student he mentored.
His mentee Jorge Gallaga, now a technology technician for the Storm Lake Community School District (SLCSD), says, "When I was a student, I basically was just a kid who would go to school to meet with friends and hangout. I had no goals and no idea what type of work I wanted to do. I was totally clueless to the real world."
Life took a positive turn for Jorge when he and Michael started connecting in the after-school program. The conversations and activities with Michael, a computer science major at BVU, were starting to make a difference in his life. "The time we spent together talking about things that didn't matter is what really made an impression on me because all of that time we spent together showed me how a person should be around other people," says Jorge, who came to Storm Lake from California with his mother when he was 8 years old and had limited English skills.
"With Jorge, I was really trying to focus on helping him understand that he needed to try hard so he could go to college and get a job that will get him ahead in life," says Michael, who is a senior software developer for Lutz Technology in Omaha and recently completed his master's degree in computer information systems at Bellevue University. "Most of our after-school activities at the middle school centered around Jorge's homework and discussions about school and life in general."
"I wouldn't say we had common interests, but I always talked to him about how much I enjoyed working with computers and that I felt like it was the best education to get because computers are never going to go away, and it pays very well," adds Michael.
When he got to high school Jorge wasn't sure what career he wanted to pursue but he knew he wanted to go to college. "The thing that pulled me through school was the dream to be the first in my family to graduate from college."
It was when he was working on a career paper his junior year in high school that he had a flashback to a field trip with Michael to the science center in Des Moines and started learning more about Michael's computer studies. "He told me he would be working with numbers, like ones and zeroes, and I didn't understand it then, but I thought it was cool."
Jorge ended up going to Iowa Central Community College (ICCC) in Fort Dodge as a student in the charter school program, attending classes five days a week and after getting home going to work part time in the evening on the production line at Tyson Foods. "Some days would really drag, but it was all worth it," he says.
Jorge graduated from ICCC in 2011 with an associate's degree in computer networking and was hired by SLCSD.
"Overall, I think Michael had a strong impact on my life because when things would get bad, the decision-making for me got clearer as to what was right and what was wrong," says Jorge. "Michael influenced me to be a better person and always encouraged me to do the right things. And me looking up to him led me to getting the job of my dreams."
The impact of Michael's mentoring did not stop with Jorge.
Last fall, when Angie Woodford, program director for Teammates of Storm Lake, the after-school program, asked Jorge if he wanted to be a mentor, he immediately accepted "because of the good experience I had when I was a middle school student." Today, Jorge is "paying it forward" by mentoring a student at the middle school.
As the years passed, Jorge and Michael lost touch until Jorge decided to look him up on Facebook and they started online conversations. They haven't been able to find time to meet again, but look forward to do so sometime in the near future.
"Words can't express how proud I am of Jorge for his accomplishments," says Michael. "Not everyone is able to accomplish what he has been able to, and that shows his strong character."
Michael says volunteering has had a powerful impact on his life. "I don't think people realize how much mentoring and volunteering can change a person's heart. When you see someone that you have helped truly better off because of something you did, it really makes you appreciate what you have. Seeing that Jorge is now helping another young student makes it even more rewarding to me."