Mentoring One Child at a Time, Over Time

first_img“Justin changed my life,” D.J. said about his mentor, who is the most important male role model in his world. “I don’t think I would be here without him.”January is National Mentoring Month. Groups like Big Brothers Big Sisters of Monmouth & Middlesex Counties are hoping to bring attention to use the moment to recruit more “big siblings,” especially men, to make a positive difference in a young person’s life.“Everyone has had a mentor in life,” said Marybeth Bull, a resident of Fair Haven who is also director of development at Big Brothers Big Sisters of Monmouth & Middlesex Counties (BBBS). “Whether it was a family member, or a boss, somebody in their life who has been there for them and showed them the way and been a positive person in their life.”You don’t need special skills. “You just have to be willing to share time with a child that needs a positive person in their life,” Bull said.Adults 19 years or older who can commit to spend four to six hours a month for at least a year, are great candidates for the volunteer position, she said.“To be a friend, spend time, be an ear for them, be a shoulder for them,” she said. “To point them in the right direction.”Headquartered in Asbury Park, BBBS currently serves 700 children in its program across Monmouth and Middlesex counties.“Littles” – who range in age from 6 to 15 years old – usually join the program at school and may be referred by guidance counselors and other social organizations. They are often from single parent households. The BBBS typically provides girls with a female mentor and boys with a male mentor. Bull said a woman can be a Big Sister to a young boy in certain circumstances, because there are many more female mentors than males. The program has an acute need for men to volunteer as Big Brothers for the large number of boys on the waiting list.Mentors undergo in-depth interviews. Screened applicants are matched with Littles based on similar interests, hobbies, and personal traits. “We’re not going to match a kid who wants to go to the library with someone who wants to play basketball,” Bull said.Although some duos may not immediately hit it off, Bull said matches are usually successful. “We have a wonderful length of our matches,” she said. “An average of 3 ½ years more than the national averages. And a lot of people stay in touch for a lifetime.”Training and case managers who check in regularly and monthly group activities with other Bigs and Littles, help a new mentor break the ice. “We let them know they’re not alone,” said Bull.Bull said the program stresses the duo should participate in low cost, simple activities, such as a trip to the park or shooting hoops. “It’s about building a friendship,” she said. “The child needs special one-to-one attention.”In addition to the traditional community-based programs, BBBS has other programs including one at Monmouth University that pairs college student mentors with Asbury Park high school students, similar to a peer-to-peer mentoring relationship.Bull finds many of the Littles in the program never thought about college but after meeting with the college students and touring the university, they “start to really see themselves in that environment.”She cites a Little Brother who not only went on to attend Monmouth University, but is now a Big Brother in the program.In addition, a program focused on a workplace environment, like Monmouth Medical Center and New Jersey Natural Gas, matches employees at all levels – from IT techs to senior vice presidents – with Littles.“The kids get a sense of a lot of different opportunities,” Bull said.Mentoring allows volunteers a chance to “see life through a child’s eyes again,” said Bull, who has been with BBBS for 15 years. “I’ve gotten to see how it makes such a difference in an impressionable child. How this person can impart their wisdom and help with everything from homework to life skills. D.J. and his Big Brother Justin Brown celebrate D.J.’s induction to the National Honor Society last year. Photo: BBBS“From Day One, it felt so natural, the first time we hung out,” said Justin Brown, 35, who became a Big Brother to D.J. in 2010. “He has such a wide-open personality.” (At the BBBS request, D.J.’s last name is being withheld to protect his privacy.)As a teacher, previously at Lakewood High School and now at Neptune High School, Brown said he sees a lot of kids “missing that strong role model.”In those early days, when D.J. was in 7th grade, he and Brown would go for pizza or take a trip to the beach.D.J. was an active Boy Scout – he is now working on his Eagle Scout project – so they found a common interest in the outdoors. “We did a lot of outdoor stuff – hiking, kayaking,” said Brown, who was also a Boy Scout. “It was all the things I like to do.”“D.J. comes from a good family,” Brown said, and credits D.J.’s grandmother for being very involved in his life. With an older sister who went to college, it was always expected that D.J. would go on for a degree. “His grandmother was pushing him not to let outside forces take him down the wrong road.”As a Big Brother, Brown said, “I think I gave him a big-picture perspective.”“It’s been just a good feeling, just to be there, to see him grow so much,” said Brown. “It’s been a positive influence in my life, too.“As a teacher you develop bonds with students, but with D.J., I really feel he’s part of my family.“He’s just my little brother,” said Brown, “he’s been part of my life.”So much so that two years ago D.J. served as a groomsman in Brown’s wedding.“D.J. will be part of my life forever.”For D.J., who will turn 18 soon, much of his high school senior year has been spent getting ready for college. He has already been accepted to a host of schools, including NJIT, University of Delaware, Drexel University, SUNY Alfred and Monmouth University, and is waiting on decisions from a few more. He plans to study medical engineering.Both men agree college was always in D.J.’s plans.“My grades were spot on – A’s and B’s,” D.J. said. “It was the internal stuff” that he feels he needed from his Big Brother.“I live in a family full of girls,” said D.J. “I have 10 half sisters.”Over the years, D.J. consulted with Brown about everything from homework and colleges to social pressures and girls.“He’s got the girl thing covered,” D.J. said.As mentors go, D.J. thinks his match was perfect. “We share nearly everything in common. He likes everything I love to do,” said D.J. “He’s actually a brother to me.”And now D.J. looks forward to his new role: as “big brother” to Brown’s 5-month old son River. So too will be a special person in his life – his “Big Brother” Justin Brown, a 35- year-old high school teacher who volunteers his time through Big Brothers Big Sisters. By Judy O’Gorman AlvarezWhen high school senior D.J. accepts his diploma at Long Branch High School graduation this June, his family will be proudly watching. “If you think about one child at a time,” she said, and then “if you look at the big picture, it changes lives for generations.”last_img

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