Making the World a Better Place One Child at a Time
By: Sherri Gragg
Zachary McKenzie sat across from the table in the Big Brothers and Big Sisters offices from a young boy, the child’s mother and grandmother. It was his first interaction with his new “little brother.” The group made small talk, and attempted to get through a list of “get to know you” questions and still the conversation stalled awkwardly. Suddenly, the little boy looked across the table at McKenzie and said, “Nevah.”
“What?” McKenzie asked, confused.
“Nevah! It is what my name would be like backwards!”
“In that moment, I realized how funny and random Haven was,” McKenzie said, “and he has been that way ever since.”
Three Sweet Years
McKenzie and Haven have spent countless hours together since that day three years ago. They have flown kites in the park, spent long days in museums, and hot, sunny afternoons at the YMCA swimming pool. McKenzie has been honored to accompany his little brother on so many of his “firsts” in life. His first play. His first professional baseball game. His first YMCA swim test to earn the privilege of swimming in the deep end all by himself. Haven has grown a lot in that time, and McKenzie has too.
McKenzie has learned how to work alongside Haven’s Nana and Papa Mark to help Haven past momentary struggles. He has learned when to hover closely, and when to take a step back and allow Haven a bit of independence. McKenzie has grown in patience, and developed the inner fortitude required to not only lead a young man of color through his precarious world, but empower him to one day lead himself. McKenzie credits his church home, Holy Family UMC, Houston of helping both big brother and little brother along the journey.
“I am grateful that my Holy Family community has rallied around Haven and made him one of their own. It is so nice to see adults greet him and show a genuine interest.” McKenzie said. Additionally, McKenzie leans heavily on the diverse congregation for guidance when Haven needs direction outside of McKenzie’s personal racial experience. “I know that I can talk to them about Haven, that I can ask, ‘How do you talk to your kids about this?’”
Learning to Lead
McKenzie is particularly proud of the way Haven has taken personal responsibility to not simply attend Holy Family, but to do his part to contribute in any way he can. One Sunday after church, as McKenzie was busy with his own volunteer responsibilities, Haven looked for a way that he could help too. He settled on helping with after-service “tear down” duties. At the close of service, the following Sunday, Haven approached some visiting children and asked if they would like to help too. He then proceeded to organize his new volunteer army and assign them their responsibilities.
McKenzie couldn’t have been prouder.
As he reflects on his past three years as a big brother, McKenzie says it is one of the most rewarding, and at times, challenging experiences of his life. He hopes others will step up to embrace the challenge as well and become big brothers and big sisters. “It doesn’t take a lot of time and it really makes a difference,” he said. “This is my call. I want to make sure our country is in good hands with Haven because he is one of our future leaders.”
With McKenzie’s careful guidance and powerful example, Haven is already embracing his future as a leader. As a matter of fact, if you visit Holy Family on any given Sunday, you are sure to find him doing just that as he holds the Cross high, leading the processional into worship.
“Haven has given me something to fight for,” McKenzie said. “He makes me want to make the world a better place.”
To learn more about how your congregation can make a difference through the Big Brothers and Big Sisters organization, find them online here.