Sharing Wisdom Across Generations

Ernest Coulter was born in Columbus, Ohio, and completed a B.A. degree from Ohio State University. He then went on to law school.

Coulter started his career as a journalist while completing his legal studies. He began his legal career in children’s court. This was the early 1900s when children were often committing crimes to survive. Child labor laws had not yet been enacted.

While with the Children’s Court, Coulter observed the causes of youth getting into trouble with the law. What he found was an absence of parental guidance. Often parents struggled just to survive and had little time to be with their children. In other cases, parents actually involved their children in law-breaking activities.

Coulter fought for the creation of ordinances for children’s rights. While the legal structures were helpful, they still didn’t address the issue of a lack of guidance. Speaking to the men in his church, Coulter challenged his colleagues to think of all children as their responsibility.

He asked each man in attendance to take responsibility for guiding one boy. Forty men accepted his challenge. This was the start of the Big Brothers of America. Around the same time, the Ladies of Charity were doing something similar for girls. Seventy years later, Big Brothers and Big Sisters joined forces. Big Brothers Big Sisters is now in 50 states and 12 countries.

What Coulter did was understand the value of guidance from adults to young people. Today that concept is called mentoring and is practiced widely in schools, universities, businesses, and virtually every type of organization. Mentoring is a noble undertaking but one that doesn’t work without considerable thought in its design. What Coulter did was to see a need and developed a program to serve that need. In the process, he created a model for sharing wisdom across generations.

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            “If each man here will take an interest in just one boy, who has been the victim of a bad environment, and will be a sort of big brother to him, that will be a real service.” – Ernest Coulter

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