Investing time made him a better person
From Mark, our new program and communications coordinator:
As a suburban kid growing up outside of Chicago, a highlight came nearly every summer when my sister and I spent two weeks with both sets of our grandparents in Massachusetts and New Hampshire.
To a 10-year-old, the deep woods, crisp streams and lakes, and lush mountains of New England were alluring. As we cruised the winding roads in my grandparent’s 1967 Mercury convertible, the open air was heavy with the scent of tall pine, hay and an occasional tobacco farm. Overhead, a single-engine plane droned and a crow swooped to a new tree. On the top of a favorite hill, we would stop to see the green hillsides rolling from Massachusetts into the nearby states of Vermont and New Hampshire.
Prior to one trip, a grandmother wrote how and she and my step-grandfather were on Granite Lake in New Hampshire fishing near Skull Island –a granite outcropping covered in evergreens and brush. It was a favorite destination for summer blueberry picking. On one fishing trip, she explained, a nearby fisherman wheeled in an unexpected surprise — a black rubber diving mask from the rocky bottom near the island. Seeing it, she told the fisherman of our pending visit. “I told him my grandson would love to have the mask,” she wrote. “It’s here waiting for you when you come.” Using a dark pen, she drew a picture of it in her letter.
Our two weeks at Granite Lake spanned from cool summer mornings in front of the wood burning stove to still evenings on the screened porch, where my sister and I would sit with my grandparents and other visitors watching the sunset. During the warmer part of the day, we spent almost all of our time in the spring-fed waters of the lake, so clean people drank from it. And that once forgotten diving mask opened a new, clear world as I explored the soft, sandy bottom near my grandparent’s tiny cabin and the shores off the island. From late morning until sometime late afternoon, it became a beacon – a lens to a place I’d never seen.
Forty years later, I still have that mask in a box with other treasures from my youth. There are handwritten letters, a saxophone mouthpiece, pieces of an old coin collection and some pocketknives a grandfather gave me. In that box and in my mind, I remember the people who invested in me with their time and in many instances, the things they did not buy. I am a better person because of that diving mask, a serene rowboat ride to an island, a picnic lunch and time that ebbed away sweetly, like the clear lapping waves at Granite Lake.
Mark Billings joined the Best Friends Mentoring Program (BFMP) as a program and communications coordinator starting Feb. 23.
Mark, who came to Dickinson in 2014 as Dickinson State University’s director of communications, will facilitate mentor and mentee recruitment, training and development while handling the nonprofit’s communications and public relations.
“Best Friends Mentoring serves a critical niche in our growing community,” said Mark. “Every youth, regardless of his or her background, deserves a stable, caring and positive influence. Every mentor is a catalyst for powerful, personal impact in a child’s future.”
Kris Fehr, executive director of BFMP, said Mark’s background in nonprofit management and communications in Illinois, where he was a lifetime resident, are a good fit for the 20-year-old nonprofit. “He has already been active in the community and will continue to connect with people who desire the best for our youth,” she said.
Mark’s wife, Pat, is an education manager at CHI St. Joseph Hospital. The couple has three children, including Chad, 17; Garrett, 15; and Madeleine, 14.