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Be a guiding force: Mentor a child

By SUSAN ROLSTON
Published January 9, 2008


Each one of us remembers someone special - a neighbor, teacher, relative or friend - who broadened our horizons and brought a little magic into our lives. Maybe it was the person who taught you to throw straight, gave you an "attaboy" or "attagirl" or just listened. It might have been someone who helped you make a good decision instead of a bad one.

So what better way to start a new year than to return the favor by mentoring a young person?

January is National Mentoring Month as well as the month to make New Year's resolutions. This year, if you become a mentor, it might be the one resolution you will want to keep. Just a few hours a couple of times a month can make a big difference in a child's life and be a rewarding experience.

Dennis Williams, an accounting clerk, grew up without a father in the house, but he had plenty of male role models. His uncles looked out for him, kept him out of trouble and were there to talk with when he needed someone. When he heard a Big Brothers Big Sisters presentation at his church, he resolved to become a mentor - a guiding force, as his uncles had been for him.

Soon after, he met Tyler, his Little Brother, and they have been friends for more than three years now. Tyler's mother is certain that having Dennis as a mentor has made all the difference. She says the consistency of their relationship has helped Tyler stay focused in school instead of rebelling and getting into trouble. He continues to be a pleasant, positive and fun-loving child who excels in all areas of his life.

Dennis' reward is helping Tyler grow into a man and paying it forward - passing along the gift of his uncles' mentoring.

Not sure you're mentor material? According to research conducted by our organization, and to men and women who inquire about mentoring opportunities, there are some commonly held misperceptions.

One is that a mentor has to have a big job or standing in the community. The fact is, kids don't care about titles, only the caring and commitment.

There is also the misperception that it takes too much time to be a mentor. Our volunteers spend a few hours a couple of times a month with their Littles. It's the quality of the time spent, not the quantity.

Some folks tell us they worry they will run out of ideas for things to do with a Little Brother or Little Sister. The fact is, we organize all kinds of indoor and outdoor events for Bigs and Littles. We also provide ideas on low-cost or free activities.

One Big told us, "Spending time with my Little Brother is easy. Stuff I'd do by myself is more fun with him." Another tells us she makes time for community service, like volunteering at a food bank, among the activities she has with her Little Sister.

"It's so important for her growth, in terms of building her self-esteem, to know that she can change the world, even if it's just a small thing. It's the small things that make a difference," she says.

Mentoring makes a big difference. Research shows that one-to-one, professionally supported mentoring has a direct, measurable and lasting impact. Children in the Big Brothers Big Sisters program are more likely to graduate from high school and less likely to be involved in violence.

Big Brothers Big Sisters serving Pinellas, Hernando and Citrus counties is actively recruiting mentors.

The need for male mentors is urgent. More than two-thirds of our children waiting to be matched with a Big are boys.

Too few young people have a caring adult mentor to provide encouragement and support. Mentoring programs can provide the link to this support, but programs like ours need volunteers to close the gap. Resolve to mentor a child, and have a great and rewarding new year.

Susan Rolston is CEO of Big Brothers Big Sisters of Pinellas, Hernando and Citrus counties. The organization's Web site can be found at www.bbbspc.org. The phone number is (727) 518-8860.