Lester Baker grew up in a single-parent home, so when he volunteered as a mentor with Big Brothers Big Sisters, he knew he wanted to help a boy in a similar situation.
“For me, you need that male role model,” he says. “When you’re a young man and young boy, you’re looking for that positive male figure in your life.”
For the past two years, he’s been a “Big” to Blessed Ssentongo, 12, trying to impart the lessons he learned from the adults in his life.
“I definitely am where I am today because of mentors,” says Lester, a 25-year police veteran and now chief of the Framingham Police Department, remembering his childhood football coaches. “They had a big role in the man that I am. I didn’t realize it at the time, how when you’re on a football field, the lessons they teach you carry over to life. Those little things can lead you on the right path.”
For Blessed, who moved to the United States from Uganda with his mother when he was 4, it’s just been fun to hang out. Lester made a memorable impression their first time together, when Lester took Blessed and his mother on a behind-the-scenes tour of the police station. “I introduced him to the men and women, let him get the run of the place, and told him it was now his run of the place,” Lester says. “He can walk in the building, and everyone knows his name.”
Blessed sat in a police car and on a police motorcycle and get the inside scoop on law enforcement. “We got to see the whole station – it was great!” Blessed says. “I wasn’t nervous because the first time I met him, we had great conversations.”
‘Big Brothers is taking care of my son’
His mother, Grace, says the Big Brothers program has been a life-changer for her, Blessed and their relationship. “Because of work, sometimes I feel like I’m not giving him enough time,” she says. “They’ve been to so many places that I’d never have taken him myself. … I just feel like Big Brothers is taking care of my son … and that makes me really happy.”
Blessed and Lester have attended several sporting events, including baseball games, minors and majors. “We went to a Boston Red Sox game, where we just had so much fun just talking to each other, talking about how the game was going – it was just a fun experience,” says Blessed.
One of Grace’s highlights was when her son attended an event with the mayor of Boston. “It was something – he hung out with the senator, he met Joe Kennedy, he met Ed Markey. It was really amazing, seeing the photos, this well-dressed little man standing beside those big figures. Every time he goes out, he’s always fun.”
After the COVID pandemic hit during their second year, Lester and Blessed kept up their connections through calls, texts and video chats. “He never lost contact,” Grace says.
Lester says it’s been fun for him, too, to see things he takes for granted through Blessed’s eyes. “I’m getting to experience his first Celtics game, his first Red Sox game – to see the look on his face, this kid just lights up to get these opportunities.”
‘You really change your mentee’s life’
Grace sought out the program after a friend told her how it helped other kids and provided a role model. She’s amazed by how Lester and other mentors devote such meaningful time to the teens and children they work with, sacrificing their time and schedules to make a difference.
“Sometimes you think that this just fell from heaven or it’s a miracle,” she says. “The way they clicked, the way they seem to know each other … they’re on the same level, they do the same things, eat the same food, laugh, joke, share their interests, and that’s quite amazing.”
Lester says their friendship has had a positive impact on him, too. “I get just as much out of it as he does,” he says. “We’re in a profession where not everybody loves you all the time. … And then I’ll have these moments where I’m out with Blessed and it reminds me of why I did this.”
A sample of the activities that Lester and Blessed have enjoyed:
- Toured the police station
- Ate Chinese food and pizza
- Attended Red Sox, Celtics and Patriots games
- Played football and catch in the backyard
- Attended other sporting events, including minor league baseball
- Attended school events