Talk about a Return on Investment!

We often say that time marches on. I recently had an experience that reminded me that, indeed, time passes quickly. It also reminded me why I am passionate about the Urban League and why our work is so important.

I met Brandon Hardin when he was a sophomore at Austin-East. Brandon was engaged in the Black Achievers Program where I served as a mentor. He often volunteered at the Urban League even as a high school student.

 Following graduation, Brandon left us for a while. He continued his studies at MTSU, earning his civilian pilot license in 2004 and a BS degree in Aerospace Administration in 2006. He earned his presidential commission as a 2nd lieutenant in 2008 and his silver wings and the aeronautical rating of pilot from the United States Air Force in 2009. He currently flies the KC-135 Stratotanker for the 134th Air Refueling Wing at McGhee Tyson Air National Guard Base in Knoxville.

 I ran into Brandon one day when he was at the Urban League for a Young Professionals meeting. The high school kid had returned as a man, and an accomplished one at that. Seeing how well Brandon had done would have been thanks enough, but the story doesn’t end there.


About two weeks ago, Brandon dropped by to give me a “gift” – an American flag that he and his unit had flown over the skies of Afghanistan on Christmas Day 2011. The flag was flown during active combat in honor of the Knoxville Area Urban League. Brandon said it was his way of thanking the Urban League for being such an influential part of his life.

 We held an official flag presentation ceremony at our Annual Membership Breakfast on Feb. 15. When Brandon spoke his words of gratitude, he and I both choked up with emotion. It was a moving and meaningful moment.

 The man, Lt. Brandon Hardin, represents what is possible when adults invest our time. Today, we call this process mentoring, and I invite you to get involved. We’re actively recruiting at least 50 adults to serve as mentors for middle and high school students for our Project Ready: Mentor Program.

 Project Ready: Mentor utilizes a comprehensive, research-driven mentoring approach that assists middle and high school students with improving school performance, graduating to the next level and exploring college options. The program focuses on academic achievement, cultural awareness and service learning. More importantly, it provides an opportunity for adults to step in and have a meaningful impact on a young person’s life.

 As I issue the call for mentors, please know that I realize that mentoring is not for everyone. Last week I spoke to a successful business owner about serving as a mentor. He was adamant that his passion, expertise and comfort level would be better served working with college students or budding entrepreneurs. I’m already working to plug him into our Small Business Development program!

 If, however, if you feel the call to work with young people and want to see a return on your investment (and I’m talking about your most valuable asset –time), then talk to us at the Urban League. Or better yet, talk to Lt. Brandon Hardin, our newest mentor. 

 The fine print: Before working with our students, all adults must have a background check, receive mentoring training and be appropriately matched with a student.