How to improve a child’s life in Big Brothers Big Sisters
When Dennis Hawkins left Ohio to take a position as the assistant athletic director for Texas A&M University-Kingsville, he decided volunteering would be a great way to get to know a new city.
“I found Big Brothers Big Sisters in Corpus Christi, which is a great organization for anyone who wants to make a direct, positive impact on the youth in the community,” Hawkins said. “That’s where I met my Little Brother, Zaylen.”
For Zaylen Lomax, 14, having a Big Brother such as Hawkins opened doors to opportunities not available to many kids.
“I wanted to make friends with someone who plays sports, so I got matched with my ‘Big,’ which is Dennis,” Lomax said. “He’s so cool. Whenever we hang out, we go to Texas A&M-Kingsville to watch the football and basketball games. I even got to visit the locker room to see the pre-game talks and meet the coaches. If I had never met Dennis, I probably would have never experienced that.”
In Corpus Christi alone, 100 underserved children are in need of a Big Brother or a Big Sister from one of the oldest mentoring organizations in the country. Unlike many other communities, Corpus Christi has a larger percentage of older kids ranging in ages 10 and up. Of those 100 kids, 67 are boys looking for a positive male role model. Something Corpus Christi shares with the rest of the nation is a lack of male volunteers and mentors.
Racheka Hook, Corpus Christi branch director of Big Brothers Big Sisters of South Texas, would like to change that.
“National studies show that having a mentor can positively impact a child’s life, academically, socially or behaviorally,” Hook told Corpus Christi Business News. “Our goal is that every young person reach their full potential, which is different for every child. We see a lot of kids that come in doing very poorly at school or having difficulty making friends. After going through our program, many of the kids go on to finish high school. Some have even gone further to pursue post-secondary education and college.”
Hook works to match “Bigs” with “Littles” who share common interests or come from similar backgrounds or experiences. The program is free and accepts youth ages 5-17, regardless of background.
“We get referrals from schools, we promote our services at fairs and conventions, sometimes teachers or guidance counselors will refer the children and often the parent will enroll the child directly,” she explained. “There are no income guidelines.”
However, the child has to want to be part of the program for it to work. Children who have been referred are interviewed along with their parents or guardians to learn their interests and goals.
“Sometimes, we’ll match a child from a single-parent home with a volunteer who grew up in the same situation,” Hook said by way of example. Common interests are important, too. “If someone likes to go on daily jogs, maybe they can include the child. Or taking them to baseball games, riding bikes, community service or even visiting the volunteer’s work place. If the child is more into science and art, maybe going to museums or doing science experiments or artwork together. Basically, planting seeds and helping the child identify things that he or she would be good at.”
The organization seeks children who need the most help, including those living in single-parent homes, growing up in poverty or coping with parental incarceration. Its funding comes from donations.
Two types of programs are available: community-based and workplace mentoring. The Corpus Christi branch is currently looking for local sponsors to start the workplace mentoring program in the Coastal Bend.
The Community Based Mentoring Program makes up the majority of the Big Brothers Big Sisters program and is based on one-on-one outings and activities.
“We meet once or twice a month and spend eight hours, depending on my work schedule,” Hawkins said. “Sometimes, we’ll go bowling or, most recently, a trampoline park like Get Air. We had so much fun, I almost hurt myself.”
The Workplace Mentoring Program introduces young people to jobs at an early age, providing a firsthand look at the corporate world. Through relationships with Corporate Bigs, Littles learn what it’s like to work for a a big company and see the educational requirements needed to succeed in a profession. College prep as well as a post-high school plan are part of the workplace program. In South Texas, workplace mentoring is only available in San Antonio at the moment.
THE VALUE OF MENTORING
In addition to being a branch director for Corpus Christi, Hook was also a Big Sister.
“When I was matched with my Little, she wasn’t doing good at school and was missing class a lot,” Hook said. “Although I never tutored her or helped her with homework, it was just having someone ask about her day, how she was doing, and being a friend, going to movies, shopping, having lunch, touring her through universities. Now, she’s in high school and making As and Bs.”
The difference is that positive attention from an adult leads to improvement in overall behavior, which, in turn, leads to improvement in academic performance.
“The changes might not be noticeable right away, and each child is impacted differently, but, overall, it is positive,” Hook said. “Sometimes, the mentor is the only positive role model in the child’s life.”
The program also benefits the Big.
“It’s taught me the value of giving back,” Hawkins said. “You don’t have to be someone famous. You can be an everyday person like myself and have a positive impact on our youth.”
As for Lomax, being a Little Brother over the past year has built his confidence and inspired him to treat others with more respect.
“Having a Big Brother is different than just having regular friends,” he said. “Not only does he play sports with me, he also takes me to cool, different places and makes time for me. He encourages me to be nicer and to make time for people. Right now, I’m a freshman at St. John Paul II High School, and he inspired me to make time for prayers in class and at home. As for my career, if I don’t make it to the NBA, I want to be a basketball coach. He makes me want to someday become a good role model for younger kids. Someday, I want to be a Big Brother, too.”
HOW TO VOLUNTEER
Anyone wanting to volunteer can register online or in person at the office on South Padre Island Drive (see address below). Volunteers must pass a background check and screening. Once approved, an interview is conducted to find out the volunteer’s interests as well as reviewing child safety issues.
Volunteers are expected to participate in regular activities with the child whether daily or a few hours per week or month. The schedule for meeting is unique to each pair of Bigs and Littles.
Big Brothers and Big Sisters is located inside Pueblo Park Mall, at 4535 South Padre Island Drive #23. For more information, call (361) 888-8500 or visit bigmentor.org.
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