Transformative Power of Mentorship by Arby’s Foundation


Published on April 16, 2019 by Stuart Brown, Executive Director of the Arby’s Foundation

Before Bob Dylan became the first songwriter to win the Nobel Prize for Literature in 2016, he was a scrappy kid in Hibbing, Minnesota slinging an acoustic guitar. Obsessed with the lyricism and musical stylings of “Dust Bowl Troubadour” Woody Guthrie, Dylan dropped out of college to travel by bus at age 19 from the Midwest to Morris Plains, New Jersey (by way of New York), where on January 29, 1961 he met his idol for the first time. The two quickly forged a friendship, Guthrie famously mentoring and encouraging the young Dylan, who released his eponymous first album, Bob Dylan, in 1962. It featured folk standards mostly, but also two original compositions, one of which being “Song to Woody,” a paean to his friend and mentor – and a harbinger of the musical legend to come.

What kind of musician would Dylan have become had he never met his friend and mentor, Woody Guthrie? It’s fun to think about, but the truth is we’ll never know. What we do know is that Guthrie played a significant role in setting Dylan down the path toward becoming one of the single most influential and important songwriters of our time. We also know that even at the young age of 19, Dylan understood the importance of mentorship. And he’s not the only one.

Mark Zuckerberg had Steve Jobs. Oprah Winfrey had Maya Angelou. Sally Ride had Dr. Arthur Walker. These are some of the most famous examples everyone seems to cite when talking about the transformative power of mentorship. Consider, though, how many more stories exist of the lives that are positively and forever affected by mentorship. The stories the world never hears about. Stories that thrive in organizations that do such great work with youth, like Big Brothers Big Sisters of America.

One such story is my own: From an early age, I sought to learn from others who were a little further down the road than I was, because I always found value in learning from those who could help me better navigate the complexities of life. Throughout my teen years, my 20s, and 30s, I leaned into those kinds of relationships with intentionality.

Without a doubt, the most profound mentorship relationship I built was with David. I met David soon after graduating from Auburn University and knew immediately there was much I could learn from him. So we started to meet regularly for breakfast, and my life has never been the same.

While my favorite story of David’s influence involves a cassette tape (remember those?) containing a sermon on wisdom he knew I needed to hear, the truth is his fingerprints are all over the past 20 years of my life. He wrote recommendations for me when I applied to graduate school. He provided strategic guidance to the startup business I helped launch a few years ago. He even officiated my wedding. Looking back, David’s contributions to my life can almost entirely be summed up in two words: time and belief.

Those two qualities – time and belief – are substantial gifts that exist in every mentor/mentee relationship. And they have the ability to transform a life. Especially when we’re talking about the lives of youth. And there is data to support that claim.

When a child is mentored, they are 55% more likely to go to college, 78% more likely to volunteer in their community, 90% more likely to mentor others, and 130% more likely to pursue leadership positions (The Mentoring Effect, 2014). These numbers express the tangible results of mentoring. But the benefits don’t end there.

Mentoring has also been linked to positive self-image and stronger emotional and psychological well-being, according to a number of joint studies by the US National Library of Medicine and the National Institute of Health. Additionally, Big Brothers Big Sisters of America (in a study they conducted) found participants in their program experienced higher performance in school and closer relationships within their families.

When you consider the data, it’s impossible to deny that the right experience at the right time can be transformative.

We are all born with a need for relationships in the context of community. Mentoring, at its core, is about relationships. Unfortunately, we live in a culture that promotes the convenience of connection at the expense of relationships. This, I believe, is one of the biggest reasons such disparity exists in the U.S. today between the youth longing to be mentored and the adults willing to mentor them. I’m referring to the massive mentorship gap that exists in our country. Big Brothers Big Sisters of America alone has more than 33,000 Littles still waiting to be paired with a Big – sometimes as long as two years. And that wait list continues to grow every day.

It’s this mentorship gap that inspired the Arby’s Foundation to partner with Big Brothers Big Sisters of America. Together, we’re doing everything we can to raise awareness of the need for more mentors nationwide.

On a human level, mentors show us we are not alone. They show us that, in this wide and vast world, there is someone on this journey who cares about us, is invested in our future, and with us every step of the way. Because despite what we may have been told, no one gets to where they’re going alone.

To learn more about how you can help us in our goal of raising awareness – or to get involved – visit