Yesterday, I attended a Big Brothers Big Sisters [BBBST] orientation briefing. I was less than a block away from the office in downtown Tucson when I passed a group of five young boys between the ages of 12 and 18 who were sharing a joint. Each in his turn glared and scowled at me as I looked in his direction. The other pedestrians walking by pretended the boys and their illegal activity were not there. Why weren’t these kids in school? Who are their parents? By the time I reached the BBBST office, my resolve was cast in concrete. I want to be counted among those who won’t just stand by and watch [or don’t watch]. I will be a mentor.
Over one hundred years ago, Ernest Kent Coulter – a war correspondent for The New York Herald during the Spanish American War and a Lieutenant Colonel in the United States Army – noted the ever-increasing number of suffering and miserable boys and young men who passed through New York’s court system. He proceeded to help organize New York City’s first juvenile court in 1902, and served as the children’s court clerk under Judge Julius M. Mayer.
Two days after Christmas in 1902, Judge Mayer announced that ninety of New York’s most prominent men promised to befriend one boy who appeared in Judge Mayer’s court.
“There is only one possible way to serve that youngster (who is in trouble), and that is to have some earnest, true man volunteer to be his big brother, to look after him, help him do right; make the little chap feel that there is at least one human being in this great city who takes a personal interest in him, who cares whether he live or dies. I call for a volunteer.”
Following Coulter’s speech, 40 men stepped up to become big brothers to young men who needed help to deal with the stress they faced every day in their personal lives. Their pledge was the beginning of the Big Brother Movement, which now serves both men and women as Big Brothers Big Sisters. Today, Big Brothers Big Sisters serves over 250,000 children in all 50 states.
At first blush, the fact that BBBST helps over a quarter-of-a-million children seems quite impressive. It may however be water in a bucket that isn’t even half-full. During yesterday’s orientation, I was told that in my community, there are 43 boys waiting to be matched with a big brother mentor. Here’s the situation: there are only a dozen unmatched volunteers. Only twelve men have offered to add their service to a good program in dire need. If we apply the same ratio nationwide – an unscientific but still telling method – there are nearly a million young men in America who have to wait for a mentor because not enough men have stepped up to be counted. We need a million more men of courage to step up and be counted.
Could one of them be you?
It is said that our greatest resource is our youth. If that is true, how does Big Brothers Big Sisters benefit our greatest resource?
An independent study by Public/Private Ventures, a national research organization shows Big Brothers Big Sisters has a measurable, positive impact in children’s lives. In a nationwide study, Little Brothers and Little Sisters were:
- 46% less likely to begin using illegal drugs. An even stronger effect was found for minority youth, who were 70% less likely to initiate drug use.
- 27% less likely to begin using alcohol and minority Little Sisters were only about 50% as likely to initiate alcohol use.
- 52% less likely to skip school. Little Brothers and Little Sisters skipped half as many days of school as did control youth, felt more competent about doing schoolwork, skipped fewer classes and showed modest gains in their grade point averages
- 37% less likely to skip a class
- one-third less likely to hit someone
- getting along better with their families
- Average age – 12
- 49% male, 51% female
- 43% Hispanic
- 28% White
- 16% multi-race
- 6% African American
- 7% other
- 31% have an incarcerated parent
- 10% don’t live with either parent
- 60% live in a one parent household [the vast majority of those with their mother]
- 65% qualify for free and reduced lunch which means they live in an environment below the national poverty level
- 77% of those on the waiting list are male and 23% are female
I’ll note that the average age of a volunteer in my community is 33-years old, and the oldest is 79-years old.
I do believe without question that all parents must take responsibility for their children. The fact is, too many don’t. That was presented quite well in the film “Courageous.” I will make excuses for no one, but the fact remains that too many of our young people and too many of their struggling parents need help. I will step up.
I sincerely hope that this post makes you more aware of a serious situation that pervades our entire globe. As you become more aware and familiar with the situation, please consider how you might get involved… with your own family and with those in need. If you need a bit of encouragement and inspiration, please click this link: Men of Courage
Where are you Men of Courage?