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Big Brothers Big Sisters partner with state agencies to expand mentorship with law enforcement communities

Detective Andrea Hughes has been paired with 8-year-old Tarajii through the Big Brothers Big Sisters program for eight months. [DIVYA KUMAR | Times].
Detective Andrea Hughes has been paired with 8-year-old Tarajii through the Big Brothers Big Sisters program for eight months. [DIVYA KUMAR | Times].
Published Jul. 30, 2019

TAMPA — Det. Andrea Hughes with the Tampa Police Department met Tarajii five years ago when she was a patrol officer in the Jackson Heights neighborhood.

Tarajii, now 8, would chat with Hughes and ask to see her siren lights. She would FaceTime and call Hughes on her days off after the girl's mother asked for the officer's number, seeking a role model for her daughter. When Hughes got promoted to detective, her visits to the neighborhood stopped, but she and Tarajii joined the Big Brothers Big Sisters program.

It's the type of mentorship state leaders want to clone.

Florida Attorney General Ashley Moody announced a partnership Tuesday with the state's Department of Law Enforcement and Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles to encourage law enforcement to join the nonprofit's mentorship program.

"We think that the effect of this partnership in this program specifically will have a tremendous effect on young people throughout the state of Florida," Moody said at the Big Brothers Big Sisters headquarters in Tampa. "I am committed to ensuring that we as a state are supporting and promoting the good deeds heroic actions of law enforcement. And it is only right that we begin to develop the trust and respect with the communities they serve."

The "Bigs in Blue" mentorship program, sometimes referred to as "Bigs in Badges," was launched in 2017. So far, it has spread to 100 agencies across the country and more than 3,000 kids in the state have been paired with law enforcement mentors.

Former Tampa Mayor Pam Iorio, president and CEO of the nonprofit, said the official partnership will help in building bonds in the community with law enforcement.

"We want to make sure that there is a closeness between law enforcement officials in the communities they serve in," she said. "When we can have a young person paired with a member of our law enforcement community as a mentor and role model, well, then good things happen."

Hughes said being part of the program has allowed her opportunities to bond with Tarajii in ways she otherwise would not have done.

Tarajii said her favorite bonding moment was skating with Hughes.

"I had fun," she said.

Det. Derek Lang with the Tampa Police Department first got involved four years ago when he saw a booth advertising Big Brothers Big Sisters. He thought getting involved could be a way to give back and has helped get other officers involved.

"In law enforcement, often we respond to crisis and we have a short period of time to spend with families and individuals," Lang said. "And usually that's during a time of crisis. So this program really allows us to build a relationship and be a mentor for someone in the community that we serve. These kids out here have amazing potential and as a police officer, and as a Big, I get to defend that potential every single day."

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Contact Divya Kumar at dkumar@tampabay.com or follow @divyadivyadivya.