The Inspiration Challenge: We asked 4 people to take their role models to coffee

Yash Mistry, left, originally met Jen Band while volunteering as an adult adviser for the teens in the nonprofit program where Band is executive director, Playing for Others. He joined the organization’s board of directors last year.
Yash Mistry, left, originally met Jen Band while volunteering as an adult adviser for the teens in the nonprofit program where Band is executive director, Playing for Others. He joined the organization’s board of directors last year. Courtesy of Yash Mistry

I serve on the steering committee for Special Olympics Mecklenburg County. I joined because I wanted to make a difference in some of the programs, but I’ve stayed for more than six years because of the people who are on the team.

One particular person on the committee who’s made an impression on me is Bob Bowler. He coaches basketball and tennis. He’s volunteered with Special Olympics for 35 years — he’s raised more than 1 million dollars for programs and coordinates Operation Santa’ Helpers during the holidays. He started Camp SOAR (Special Olympics Athletic Retreat) 19 years ago at the Levine Jewish Community Center with 54 campers and 35 volunteers. This summer, there were 365 campers and more than 400 volunteers. Bob always has a smile for everyone he meets. He’s still going strong at 80 years old.

I often say, “I want to be Bob Bowler when I grow up.”

Many of us have a “Bob Bowler” in our life. Someone who inspires us, a person who we strive to be each day. It could be a mentor, role model, teacher or co-worker. How have they impacted your life? What have you changed about yourself to be more like them? Most importantly, have you told them how much the way they live their life affects you?

At the Special Olympic Spring Games, I told Bob he was the inspiration for this story. Bob always makes sure the light is shining on others, so his response wasn’t unusual — he smiled and talked about the great group of athletes who train and compete.

CharlotteFive decided to ask four Charlotteans to meet up with their mentors for lunch or coffee and tell them that they are role models. After the meetings, we asked them and the mentors about the experiences. We’re calling this “The Inspiration Challenge,” and we think you should do it, too (see below for details).

Bob Bowler with campers and counselors at Camp SOAR at the Levine Jewish Community Center in 2016. Courtesy of Levine Jewish Community Center

Here’s what happened:

(1) Charlitta Hatch

Charlitta Hatch, left, first met UNC Charlotte professor Debra Smith as a teenager interviewing for a job at the McCrorey YMCA. Courtesy of Charlitta Hatch

Principal consultant, Slalom and author of “Black Boy Joy”

Where they met: Chipotle in the University area

What they ordered: Burrito bowls with Cokes

Vibe: Uplifting because Smith asked Hatch to write the afterword to her book “Legacies: African-American Female Pioneers.”

Charlitta Hatch originally met Debra Smith, a professor at UNC Charlotte, as a teenager.

Hatch’s experience:

“Dr. Smith hired me for my first job at the McCrorey YMCA before I was 16. She offered me the job, and I remember having to wait for almost three months before I could start working at 16.

“As I reflect, I admire the most that she was in there with me. She wasn’t just a person that completed some mentor checklist. She was available and present and willing to do the hard work with me. We have had tough conversations and happy conversations. We have had coaching conversations and celebratory conversations. Dr. Smith (or Ms. Debbie to me) is consistent and the way she has shown up for me, I pray that I am doing that for the next generation.

“It felt good to let her know how much I appreciate her and attribute so much of who I am today to the investment that she has made in me for the last 18 years. I don’t think when I was younger that I could fully appreciate the time, energy and money she put in me, and I am not sure I demonstrated that gratitude.”

Smith’s reaction:

“I felt overwhelmed (in a good way), full, and — believe it or not — accomplished when Charlitta told me that I’d not only been a personal role model for her but had also encouraged and motivated her to pay it forward with her own mentee.

“Moreover, I feel so proud I’ve played a small part in sending a really amazing young woman into our community, our workforce, our world. I’m just overjoyed at who she is.”

(2) Kati Hanlon Mayo

Kati Mayo, left, knew who Patricia McBride was long before she met her — she was among her inspirations to become a professional dancer. Courtesy of Kati Mayo

Artistic coordinator of Charlotte Ballet Academy, Charlotte Ballet

Where they met: Hallway of Charlotte Ballet

What they ordered: They’re teachers, there’s no time to eat and drink

Vibe: Grateful for one another

Kati Hanlon Mayo originally met Patricia McBride in Chautauqua, N.Y., in 1992, when Kati started dancing for the Chautauqua Ballet. McBride is a master teacher and repetiteur with the Charlotte Ballet Academy.

Mayo’s experience:

“I knew of Patti before I met her. She was a world-famous ballerina with the New York City Ballet, and I saw her perform on television numerous times. Patti was my childhood idol and one of my inspirations to become a professional dancer.

“The reason I admire Patti is surprisingly not due to her remarkable career in ballet; it is because of the person she is today and how she treats those around her. Patti leads with kindness and generosity. She is never one to boast about her accomplishments or name drop. Patti is incredibly humble yet passionate about her work as a teacher and guardian of George Balanchine’s legendary choreography.

“I found that Patti was one of my toughest coaches/teachers. However, Patti is always the first to offer you praise, comfort and love. She lifts people up who are around her and I am indebted to Patti not only as a teacher and mentor but also as a role model, supporter and friend.

“Patti has been with me through successes, failures, injuries, illnesses, pregnancy, motherhood and all that came in between so acknowledging how much she means to me felt like the right thing to do.”

McBride’s reaction:

“It’s astonishing. It makes me feel blessed that she’s in my life. She’s touched my heart.”

(3) Yash Mistry

Creative director/founder, Mistry Design Co.

Where they met: Breakfast at the Original Pancake House

What they ordered: Jen ordered eggs over easy, bacon and toast; Yash had the banana pancakes.

Vibe: Intense conversations between two excitable people who like to laugh out loud

Yash Mistry originally met Jen Band (pictured together at top) volunteering as an adult adviser for the teens in the nonprofit program where Band is executive director, Playing for Others. He joined the organization’s board of directors last year.

Mistry’s experience:

“Through these past couple of years, Jen and I have struck up a beautiful friendship and a relationship of informal mentor/mentee.

“For starters, she’s just a pure soul. There’s no pretense, no politics, no judgement. She genuinely cares about every single person around her and is constantly trying to find ways to support everyone in whatever it is that they’re working towards. When she sees you, she really sees you and makes sure to celebrate you. And when she listens, she really listens.

“Another huge quality that she possesses that is also a huge part of the culture at Playing for Others, is giving permission. Giving permission to the people around her to say what they need to say, to be who they need to be, without any fear of judgement. She is the one person that I can be completely and fearlessly honest with.

“I am not very good with words, but I try my best to convey how much I appreciate her. And even when I fail to put it in words, I can tell that she knows and understands exactly how grateful I am for her. The only way I can describe that feeling is a sense of peace and ease. Also, knowing that I can be my true self, without any pretense or a social mask, is very empowering.

“Wow, this was a wonderful exercise. We don’t really get a lot of chances to stop and reflect on relationships and friendships in our life. Thanks for giving us the opportunity to do just that.”

Band’s reaction:

“It was an honor to hear him say that. I have seen Yash grow so much as a person since I’ve known him, and he often shares stories with me about how something we’ve talked about has changed his outlook and mindset. It’s a gift.”

(4) Armah Shiancoe

Mike Hawley, left, and Armah Shiancoe met at a Central Piedmont Community College reception. Courtesy of Armah Shiancoe

Business teacher, Indian Land High School, Lancaster County School District

Where they met: Earl’s Grocery

What they ordered: Coffee; they don’t mess with food when they’re having a serious discussion.

Vibe: Gratitude

Armah Shiancoe was introduced to Mike Hawley, an attorney with K&L Gates LLP, at an event in 2015.

Shiancoe’s experience:

“I admire Mr. Hawley because he is the one who continues to impact our community by wearing many hats. Although he is one of the top business attorneys in our region, he is consistently serving our community via his multiple roles with various nonprofits. He helps move the “proverbial needle” to improve things for under-served populations and the international community here locally.

“He also chooses to make time to sit with and coach me through many things personally. He asks me to sit down with other young people in our community that he feels I might be able to connect with and help in different ways, which is very admirable to me.”

Hawley’s reaction:

“I was introduced to Armah by Tony Zeiss at a Central Piedmont reception a few years ago. Despite a sea of people around us, we were intrigued by each other and spent some quality time talking. I came away from that discussion thinking that this is a guy with whom I need to stay in touch; I can learn some things from him.

“Armah is the whole package — what we aspire to be as members of the only remaining Sapiens species. He’s confident, but caring; articulate, but naturally so; and highly intelligent, but humble. And he has wrapped all of that in a smile and laugh that are endearing and contagious.

“[I felt] a little uncomfortable at first. That quickly dissipated, however, with Armah speaking so comfortably, genuinely and joyfully. I was, and am, honored, grateful and inspired, myself, by Armah.”

Comments have been edited for clarity and brevity.

Editor’s note: If you could take your role model to coffee, who would it be and why? Let us know in the comments or email After reading this, if you decide to contact them and take them out to tell them how you feel about them — email us a photo and tell us about your experience.