By Al Parker
“We need men!”
That’s the plaintive cry from Cecilia Chesney, executive director of Big Brothers Big Sisters of Northwestern Michigan.
The organization, which provides one-to-one mentoring to more than 300 at-risk youngsters in an eight-county region, is in dire need of male mentors for boys in the program, Chesney tells The Ticker.
Only 25 percent of Bigs are men, according to Chesney. Of the inquiries made by those interested in being volunteers last year only 20 percent came from men. And there are 105 youngsters from 6 to 12 years old on the BBBS waiting list, compared with 60 at this time last year. Boys make up 64 percent of the waiting list.
Elk Rapids resident Ron Smith knows firsthand the impact a Big Brother can make to a boy.
Several years ago Smith was matched up with a Traverse Heights third-grader named Shane who didn’t like attending school and whose grades suffered. After Smith began spending an hour with Shane every Thursday, the boy’s attendance improved, along with his grades.
“I waited until my children were grown, and that might have been a mistake on my part,” says Smith, who is now a Big Brother to a boy named Brandon. “I encourage guys to get involved as soon as they can. It’s not really that big of a commitment, and it means so much to these boys.”
Even after Shane moved to Florida, he kept in touch consistently with Smith. About a year ago, Shane stopped at Smith’s workplace to let him know he had moved back to the area. This week Shane graduates with honors from Glen Lake High School. Smith will be at the graduation party, roasting corn (his specialty) for all in attendance.
Is the lack of male mentors just the old cliché – men afraid of commitment – in action?
“The idea that if you commit to become a Big it will suck the time and energy out of your day is not really true,” says Chesney. “You can get involved for as little as one hour a week. It’s like exercise – you just find the time. And it becomes so special. The return you get is so big.”
The organization operates two types of matches. School-based matches meet once a week, usually during the youngster’s lunch hour. Community-based matches meet no more than once a week and can involve other activities like fishing or a Beach Bums game.
It’s easy to get involved. There’s some basic paperwork asking about interests and contact info. Then there’s a background check conducted. It can take from a week to a month to get approved. To learn more, go to www.bigsupnorth.com.