James, a bright-eyed and energetic 11-year-old, has been waiting to be matched with a "Big Brother" for more than a year. His mother approached Big Brothers Big Sisters of Pinellas County when she decided that James needed a positive male role model in his life. James has to make decisions that will ultimately determine the direction of his future with an absent father and no brothers or uncles in his family.
Since 1967, Big Brothers Big Sisters of Pinellas County has been helping our communities' most vulnerable children through the power of a relationship with a Big Brother or Big Sister, giving kids the support and care they need to make good choices. When we match a carefully screened adult volunteer with a child at risk, the path to their future is repaved with hope.
Our organization is in dire need of mentors, especially male and minority mentors. There are more than 200 boys waiting to be matched with a positive role model. More than 74 percent of our children waiting for a mentor are boys, but only 34 out of every 100 inquiries to volunteer come from men. Now more than ever, we need male volunteers to help us to help our kids.
Economic circumstances have created a greater need for more families to have professionally backed, long-term mentoring support. Single-parent homes, neighborhoods with gangs and crime, poor role models and poverty all can lead a child to despair, lack of self-worth and ultimately, poor choices.
In addition, more and more children are being raised by relative caregivers who might need support and guidance when faced with raising children unexpectedly. Fortunately there are people who are willing to step up and provide these children with positive, caring role models who can change the direction of their lives.
Mentoring is one of the most rewarding, enjoyable and simple things you could ever do. For as little as one hour a week, you can add joy to the life of a child and contribute greatly to his or her potential. Together, mentors and the kids they partner with do simple, everyday activities like going to sporting events, playing games, going to parks or watching movies.
Research shows that having the positive influence of a Big Brother makes a real difference in the life of a boy. Little Brothers experience improvements in academic performance, behavior and relationships at home and elsewhere, according to independent studies. In Pinellas County, 96.5 percent of the children who have been matched with a Big Brother or a Big Sister remain out of the state juvenile justice system a year later. Mentored children also have demonstrated better success in school, with a 96 percent promotion rate to the next grade level.
You don't have to change your life to change the life of a child. Help us change the lives of boys like James and learn how you can make a difference by going to www.bbbspc.org or by calling (727) 518-8860.
Susan Rolston is chief executive officer of Big Brothers Big Sisters of Pinellas County. The agency serves Pinellas, Hernando and Citrus counties.