“There is absolutely no greater feeling than selflessly serving someone else.”

Last week Family Services took a moment out of the busy season to pause and recognize volunteer mentors from our Stand & Deliver, Success Mentors and Big Friends Little Friends programs. In doing so, our mentoring team did an incredible job of highlighting the great work of each of these three programs, and saluting the volunteers who drive their outcomes. “Tonight is all about you,” noted Family Services of the Merrimack Valley’s CEO Liz Sweeney as she honored the mentors in attendance for our Mentor Appreciation reception. “While I applaud our staff for the great work they do with our mentoring programs, they cannot do it alone.”

Sweeney then went on to share the story of the gentlemen honored (by Family Services) as  “Mentor of the Year”… Scott Paganelli.  Scott (pictured above with Family Services CEO Liz Sweeney) has been matched in our Big Friends Little Friends program for about a year and half with Bryan.  When our mentoring team approached Scott about mentoring a 10 year old autistic boy, Scott did not hesitate to say “yes” as he knows personally what it is like to live with a disability.  Since being matched, Scott has been the perfect mentor for Bryan, consistently demonstrating great patience and ingenuity in his outings with his mentee.  As a result of their relationship, Bryan has flourished.

We recently caught up with Scott and asked him why “giving back” is, for him, such a priority in life.  To which he replied…   “I was raised by two fantastic, supportive parents who continue to provided  lifelong examples of serving others and volunteerism, which I have throughout my life attempted emulate. Additionally, others, too numerous to count, have been incredibly generous to me throughout my life, with their time and guidance. I’ve greatly enjoyed my time working with children especially, as an adult scouter with the Boy Scouts of America, founder of The Challenger Sports League of Greensboro, NC, an award-winning 501c3 providing sports and recreational opportunities for Greater Greensboro’s disabled youth and now with Family Services of the Merrimack Valley’s Big Friends Little Friends mentoring program. I’m grateful to have the full support of my wife, Rose, who has embraced Bryan as a member of our family.”

Tragically, a year into their match, Bryan was diagnosed with leukemia and spent several months undergoing medical treatment in Boston.  During this time Scott traveled to Boston to visit Bryan on a number of occasions, cheering up his Little Friend with his favorite food, toys and other tokens of his affection.  His presence has been a tremendous source of support for Bryan and his mother throughout this emotional ordeal.  In addition to his friendship, Scott also launched a Go Fund Me page which helped to raise thousands of dollars to offset Bryan’s medical expenses and support his mother who had lost her job due to the need to be by Bryan’s side in the hospital. All the while, Scott searched for other resources for the family and found a grant that pays transportation costs for kids undergoing cancer treatment.  Scott applied for the grant on the family’s behalf and is awaiting a decision on the request.  “Serving as a mentor to my Little buddy, Bryan, has truly forced me to step considerably outside of my traditional comfort zone,  particularly in light of his ongoing challenges as a young fellow on the autism spectrum, and the unanticipated challenges his cancer diagnosis brought to his family this year.  There is absolutely no greater feeling than selflessly serving someone else, especially when you are supporting such a fantastic, loving family.” 

In the midst of his incredible commitment to Bryan and his family, Scott supports our Big Friends Little Friends program on countless other fronts – attending virtually every event since he has been matched including Bowl a Strike for Kids and our annual Rhapsody Gala. He also serves on our Big Friends Little Friends Program Support Committee helping us to source pricing for match activities. In closing, we asked Scott if there are lessons that Bryan teaches him?  “I went into this new adventure with him with a bit of apprehension and a general understanding of the importance established routines are to individuals on the spectrum.  I also know how life can throw you unexpected curve balls without notice.  This was one of my greatest concerns.  During one of our very first outings, Bryan and I had a thorough discussion on the importance of flexibility.  Bryan responded with great understanding, enthusiasm and gratitude.  His willingness to be flexible while we scramble to come up with plans B, C and sometimes even D at the last minute, is inspiring, particularly as I know how challenging this is for him.  Also, his eagerness to attempt small life lessons, skills and new experiences such as using a knife to cut apples for a homemade apple pie, or having him help me work the gas pump to fill my tank on one of our adventures, makes me appreciate how much he is stepping outside of his own comfort zone, how much he is giving to our relationship and the trust he places in me.”

As she concluded her praise for the service of the  volunteers who filled the Mentor Appreciation reception, Ms. Sweeney extended the organization’s collective appreciation with… “What can be said about people who volunteer other than THANK YOU.”  We are so grateful to Scott and to all of our mentors for your selfless service of others and for the difference YOU make in the lives of these children!

Family Services of the Merrimack Valley’s Big Friends Little Friends is a youth mentoring program that matches caring adult mentors with young people who could benefit from a relationship with a positive adult role model. The goal of the program is to develop the positive potential of young people by providing them with support, guidance and friendship.  Serving fifteen towns in the Merrimack Valley, each year our Big Friends Little Friends program matches approximately 100 children with mentors.  To learn more about the many wonderful children who hope to be paired with an adult mentor, please contact our Big Friends Little Friends program at 978-327-6600.

Big Friends are caring and responsible people who:

  • Are from all different backgrounds, races and religions, and like to have fun.
  • Are committed to being a consistent role-model; to their continued mentor training; and to sharing, listening and visiting with their Little Friend.
  • Are able to relate positively and in a meaningful manner to a growing boy or girl.

Little Friends are boys and girls between the ages of 6 and 14 who:

  • Reside in our service area.
  • Have a desire to be in the program and want to have a Big Friend.
  • Have the approval and support of their parents or guardians to participate in the program.
  • Are from all different backgrounds, races and religions.

Our mentoring program service area includes children from: Amesbury, Andover, Boxford, Georgetown, Groveland, Haverhill, Lawrence, Merrimac, Methuen, Newbury, Newburyport, North Andover, Rowley, Salisbury, and West Newbury.  Please consider helping us make our long wait list vanish this holiday season by signing up to be a Big Friend today!  Check out one of our great matches… Omar and Boris.


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