Wake and Olofsson in May 2015 at the Moving Up Day Dance
Walt Wake worked in the service department for Hendrick Volvo Cars of Charleston from 2012 until his retirement in June 2017. Soon after he began working for Hendrick Automotive Group, he had the opportunity to become a lunch buddy mentor through a partnership that Charleston-area Hendrick Automotive Group dealerships had recently started with Be A Mentor.
Eventually, his mentee moved, Walt retired and relocated to Colorado, so he didn’t expect to ever reconnect. Then earlier this year, Walt noticed a Facebook instant message from his mentee that not only made his day, but also made him realize how stepping out of your comfort zone can help impact a life. And now he’s planning to make good on a promise he made more than five years ago.
Walt’s Mentoring Story:
I was paired up with a middle school student named Aaron Olofsson. By my second week spending time getting to know him, I could tell he was really bright, so it didn’t make sense that he was failing some of his classes. I eventually discovered that he hadn’t done homework in a year and a half and that he specifically needed help in math and science. But more importantly, I also learned that his brother was an ex-Marine and that he too, wanted to be a Marine.
This gave me the opportunity to have a tough discussion with him. “What do you have to do to become a marine?” I asked him one day at lunch. “Graduate,” he said. So, I helped him set goals. Not just big goals, but mini goals. Starting with doing and turning in his homework. And he did. And he brought his grades up. And we celebrated along the way. I even brought pizza in one day for him and about five to six of his friends for one of our celebrations. One of my favorite memories looking back is how he stopped me one day before that pizza party and said, “Get ready for that pizza celebration. It’s almost time.” I knew that he was really looking forward to it and more importantly working toward it each day.
He eventually celebrated passing his classes in middle school, and I chaperoned his moving up day. He told me that he wanted to meet my wife, so she came too. He then moved on to high school at West Ashley. His freshman year he was getting B’s and C’s, and he showed me his four-year plan. I was so excited to know that he now was setting goals for himself and working toward them. One of them included joining the ROTC, but at West Ashley there was only a Navy ROTC, so it wasn’t exactly the right path, but close enough.
Soon after that, he went to visit his brother who had retired from the Marines and eventually moved to Belmont, North Carolina to live with him. Although I was sad that he moved, I knew that as he started his sophomore year in a new school that he was also able to become part of its Marine ROTC program.
I eventually retired and moved to Colorado to be closer to kids and my granddaughter. Of course, I figured our connection had been lost, so I was shocked one day when Aaron’s name popped up in my Facebook instant messenger. It was such a thrill to learn at that moment that Aaron was in a recruiter’s office signing up to become a Marine. He was so excited to learn that one of the job options was a Marine Aviator. His path was set. He would graduate in 2019 and become a Marine.
I have to admit, I was messed up that whole afternoon.
Again, Aaron was letting me know, “Get ready. You told me you’d come to my graduation.” You better believe I will be there. My wife and I will both be there. Couldn’t miss it.
What would I say to someone considering becoming a mentor? I’d say, don’t let a sixth grader (or any other age kid) intimidate you. It’s easy to get to know someone. And in getting to know them, you can help them. Everyone has the ability to make a difference in one person’s life like Loren Eisley conveys in his original work called The Star Thrower later adapted into The Starfish Story. Aaron made me realize deep in my heart that even if I only helped one or two kids, I did make a lasting difference to them.
Aaron’s Story (current junior at South Point High School in Belmont, North Carolina):
Thinking back to sixth grade, I was lost in this world and needed guidance. I was shy and didn’t have the best home life situation. My friend had a mentor and I was spending time with the two of them, so one day my guidance counselor asked me if I’d like a mentor, too? I said yes, and that’s when I met Mr. Walt.
I always remember being so excited to see him when he came to lunch. I saw him both as a friend and as a positive role model even early on.
I remember him doing things to encourage me, help me and guide me all along the way. One time he gave me an accordion-style binder note book, so I could be better organized. That was such a big help.
But of all of it, one of the things he told me that has stuck with me more than anything else is this quote: “Better to have what you don’t need, than to need what you don’t have.” That helped me learn how to prepare for classes back then and is even more relevant and true in my life today as I learn how important preparation is in all areas of life.
Honestly, Mr. Walt helped shape me into who I am today. Having him as a mentor was one of the best experiences of my life. He helped me with school, helped me make decisions, gave me advice about friends and things I was facing with my home life. I told him things that I didn’t tell anyone else because I truly saw him as a father-figure in my life.
It’s been a couple years since I’ve seen Mr. Walt, but I got back in touch with him recently to share my news. I’m going into the United States Marine Corp. I’m hopeful that I’ll be able to graduate early in December 2018. From there, I’ll serve four years active duty. My hope is then to go into the Reserves while I go to college at the Citadel and Officers Candidate School. My ultimate goal is to become a Marine Aviator. It feels so good to have a plan and know the path I want to be on after high school. And Mr. Walt helped me accomplish that.
I’m looking forward to someday being back in Charleston and to have the opportunity to someday mentor someone myself. When I do, I will definitely strive to be the same role model for someone else with wonderful advice like Mr. Walt was for me.
A Challenge to Team Hendrick from Charleston area Community Relations Director Don Smith
It’s outcomes like this that keep the Hendrick Automotive Group team in Charleston active in mentoring in our community. Through our long-term partnership with Be A Mentor, employees can be matched with an at-risk student on the brink of opportunity like Aaron was. If you have time, share it. Find a school or mentoring organization in your community and join us in getting involved. It will open your eyes and help you learn more about how you can help your community.