Mount Mercy University promises students a practical education that inspires them to discover knowledge, build community and lead courageous lives. Elements of Mercy values like compassionate service are weaved throughout program curriculums, giving students a choice – learn and move on, or learn and take action. Because of a master’s level Mount Mercy course, one alumnus has chosen action.
During his Masters of Business Administration studies, graduate student Damon Hines took Principles of Project Management. He was assigned to help Big Brothers Big Sisters of Cedar Rapids & East Central Iowa develop a plan to recruit a more diverse base of mentors in the community.
“This particular project with Big Brothers Big Sisters demanded that I learn about the organization overall so that I could understand their needs, or at least determine what the goal of our project should be,” Hines said. “It was through this project that I learned about the long list of Littles – especially boys – waiting to be matched with a Big. Some of these boys had been waiting for over a year to be matched.”
The organization’s 2013 annual report noted 118 unmatched children – 77 percent were boys waiting to connect with a positive male role model. Men comprised only 35 percent of the organization’s volunteer pool.
Hines continued, “It was frustrating to think that there seems to be so few men in the community that would be willing to give some of their time to make a difference in a child’s life. And it made me sad to think that I was one of those men.”
Hines, a senior customer support manager at Rockwell Collins, obtained his MBA degree from Mount Mercy in 2009, launching into the world with an inspiring education and the spark to make a difference. Motivated by his Mount Mercy graduate course, he made the choice to incorporate Mercy values into his personal life. He became a mentor and was matched with Xavier, a then 10-year-old.
“Xavier was pretty quiet and shy from the get go,” Hines said. “I knew he liked sports, so the first thing we did was go to a Cedar Rapids Kernels game. He opened up a little bit and within a few meetings he was talking openly with me.”
Four years later, the two are trusted companions who inspire each other to learn, grow and succeed. As Xavier prepared to move from middle school to high school, Hines wanted to motivate his young mentee to improve his grades.
“Xavier had always struggled to get his grades above a 2.00 GPA, so I knew we had to work on that, especially as he was in 8th grade and would soon be transitioning to high school,” Hines said. “I offered him a challenge: If Xavier could increase his grades to a 3.2 GPA, I would allow him to shave my head. But if they remained lower than a 2.2, I would shave his head.”
Knowing Xavier’s competitive nature, Hines thought a friendly challenge would get him excited about school, but he completely underestimated the value of this benign give and take.
“He dug in, and by the end of his first term, he managed to get a 3.53 GPA. I was so proud of him. So, obviously, I had to stand by my word, and one night after his basketball game he came over to do the deed.”
Hair is temporary, friendship is forever.
In recognition of his inspirational role modeling, Damon Hines received Governor Terry Brandstad’s “Excellence in Mentoring” award during a January 2014 ceremony at the Capitol Rotunda. Hines was one of only four Iowans to receive this year’s award.
“Being matched with Xavier has forced me to think outside of my own family’s needs,” Hines said. “Seeing things from his perspective reminds me to appreciate even the small things. I no longer take things for granted.”
“I continue to be a positive advocate for the MBA program at Mount Mercy because of the focus on social leadership that I received.”
Thanks, Damon, for being our advocate. And thanks even more so, for being a positive influence in the lives of future Mustangs.