PHILADELPHIA – Joel Barnett has been on the go since the tender age of 2. That’s when he moved with his parents, who are Jamaican immigrants, from his birthplace of England to Jamaica after his parents’ divorce. He lived there until the age of 12 when he moved to the United States.
A member of the U.S. Marine Corps for 7 1/2 years, Barnett attained the rank of first lieutenant and piloted a “Huey” helicopter – an aircraft designed for transporting small troops and medical evacuation missions. His tour of duty included three California cities (San Diego, Oceanside and El Toro), Okinawa, Japan, and Buffalo, NY.
While in the Marines, I learned the enormous difference a well-trained and engaged team can make in the accomplishment of our mission. I also learned that the best way to achieve success is through preparation.
That commitment to training and preparation has enabled Barnett to accomplish a great deal since leaving the military for civilian life 27 years ago. Today, he is a regional manager in retail banking for PNC Bank’s Delaware County region, which includes Philadelphia, Delaware and Southern New Jersey.
His own childhood experiences also have inspired Barnett to help others and serve as a mentor. At home, Barnett is a husband of six years to Monique and father of one son, aged 29, and three daughters, ages 17, 15 and 10.
At work, Barnett has been with PNC for 8 1/2 years and was instrumental in the 2014 promotions of six employees in his region. He also is a member of PNC’s local Military Employee Business Resource Group and serves as a mentor for young members.
In 2004, Barnett decided to pay forward the family support he received as a child and volunteered to serve as a youth mentor through Big Brothers Big Sisters in New York City.
“I’ve always been concerned with young African-American males and some of the unique challenges they face, and I wanted to do something about it,” he said. “I was fortunate to have really strong, influential male figures in my life, especially my uncle, who played a really great role as a father figure to me.”
The non-profit agency matched Barnett with “Little Brother” Zack, who was 9 years old and not very trusting at first.
“Zack didn’t meet his biological father until he was about 18 years old, so it was really sad,” Barnett said. “I was in a position to fill the vacuum, but it took time. You have to have a lot of patience and can’t force them to talk, but you find some common interests and spend time doing some of those things.”
Zack and Barnett went to the movies, played golf and just enjoyed spending time together.
“The next thing you know, you talk about a range of things and your Little Brother gets more comfortable and starts sharing. Then you can share your own perspective. My father wasn’t there when I was young either, so Zack and I had that in common. I think that helped to foster trust and facilitate the conversation.”
Barnett was Zack’s Big Brother for nine years and proudly saw him graduate from high school and attend college at the University of Miami. Zack is now 20 and hopes to have a career developing video games.
“We are still in touch, even though he lives in Florida. I still call him my Little Brother,” Barnett said.
There are a lot of young people, particularly young African-American males, who need support, guidance and help seeing beyond their current circumstances. Many of these kids don’t aspire to anything more than they see in their communities. I want to help them see that there is a bigger world than that. That’s why I recently signed up with Big Brothers Big Sisters of Greater Philadelphia.
Barnett offers high praise for his personal mentor, Richard Bynum, who leads PNC’s business banking division and became his mentor through the bank’s internal mentoring program.
“Richard was my mentor several years ago but continues to guide me,” Barnett said. “I aspire to be like him. I don’t want to sound too sappy, but I feel as if I’ve been blessed beyond my wildest imagination. My blessings have a lot to do with the people I’ve come across in my life: family, mentors and others. I feel I have a responsibility to share and help people as much and however I can.”
Big Brothers Big Sisters cites national research that shows the positive influence of one-on-one mentoring with adults and at-risk youths:
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