By: Eduardo Noriega, Case Manager, Big Brothers Big Sisters of Broward County
According to some statistics, approximately 70,000 children in Broward County could bene t from having a mentor in their lives. Many of them are being raised by a single parent who can’t provide or compensate emotionally, or even financially, for the absence of the other. The lack of this parental figure becomes particularly significant if the absent parent shares with the child the same gender and if he/she constitutes, or not, a positive role model.
In most instances, every child has had the influence of at least one caring adult – other than a parent – who provided guidance, friendship, support or simply positive role- modeling. This mentor may have been a relative, a neighbor, a teacher, a pastor or a coach who offered individualized attention and who the recipient, as a child, looked up to.
Typically, the impact of this person is powerful and long lasting, to the point that the individual may end up modeling his/her personality and behavior. This influence is often hidden in the recesses of our memories and may go unnoticed for many years, until an event or impactful decision triggers a need to give back. It is then that one realizes that life is like a ladder climbed with the help of ones who are further and guidance for those who follow. This understanding may be the impetus for someone to decide to mentor a child who can bene t from a positive role model.
Mentoring services may not rise to the level of essential needs in the development of a child, such as education and counseling, yet they are important and offered by any number of local organizations. Assigning a responsible and caring adult to a child in need is a very powerful tool affecting decisions that child may make that will affect his/her future. A mentor can be there for the mentee as a consistent, committed and unconditional figure or build a buddy or confidant relationship. Children who bene t from a mentor’s consistent presence experience improvement in their academics and in their relationships with their families. They also experience higher self-esteem, less propensity to engage in risky behavior and improved social acceptance.
Irresponsible parenting, divorce, parental unsuitability, child abuse and neglect, incarceration and premature parental death are prevalent realities in our society, which have a profound effect on the psyche and development of our children and the health of our community. The right mentor with experiences outside the student’s immediate environment can help them expand their horizons and acquire a different outlook on the world. Mentoring one of these children helps them reach their full potential and achieve success.
People may have reservations about mentoring for a variety of reasons. They may not consider themselves to be worthy role models or believe they lack the expertise, training or support. The reality is that life experiences, including the way one handles and copes with personal struggles and challenges, constitutes the best skills a mentor may offer.
Some may feel that that time constraints are a factor, not realizing that just a few hours of quality time spent with a child can mean a world of a difference. Mentoring organizations find that many potential male mentors are afraid that their mentees could lie or make false accusations against them. Also, that the fathers are or will come back into their lives and will see them as competitors. Others feel that the cultural differences between them and the mentees could be too challenging to overcome. What they may not know is that established mentoring organizations with proven service models are very thorough in the screening, assessment and selection of their participants, in their matching process and in monitoring and providing support during the development of their mentoring relationship.
Eduardo Noriega is a “Cum Laude” mass-media communicator and an 11-year case manager with Big Brothers Big Sisters of Broward County. Big Brothers Big Sisters of Broward County serves an average of 1,200 children per year with standards of quality and measurable results that have been recognized with awards at a national level.