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Do Good: Looking for a few great men, women to be Big Brothers, Big Sisters

Paul Miller, Director Big Brothers Big Sisters

Val Jones

Want to make a difference in someone's life this year? D.A. Blodgett-St. John's needs role models to help strengthen our community one family at a time. Victoria Mullen shares one story of success and invites your participation.
January is National Mentoring Month, and nonprofit D.A. Blodgett-St. John’s needs more committed adults to become mentors to children by participating in their Big Brother Big Sister program. Right now, over 200 kids in our community are waiting for a Big Brother or Big Sister. There is a special need for volunteers of color.

D.A. Blodgett-St. John’s has offered the nationally recognized mentoring program since 1965, serving all of Kent County and the eastern region of Ottawa County. They match kids from age five to 17, usually living in a single parent home, with qualified volunteers.

The program is based on each volunteer developing a friendship with a child who could use extra support. “Most kids come from difficult circumstances, such as a single parent family,” says Paul Miller, director of D.A. Blodgett-St. Johns. “Our job is to match a child with a mentor who can help the child live up to his or her potential.”

Research shows that mentors can play a powerful role in giving young people the tools they need to make responsible decisions, stay focused and engaged in school, and reduce or avoid risky behavior, such as drug use, skipping school, and other negative activities. A quality mentoring relationship can significantly increase a young person’s prospects for leading a healthy and productive life; and can strengthen families and, ultimately, our community. Longevity is key.

“Our surveys show that on average, 80 percent of the kids in our program improve academically, socially, and cooperatively in the home,” says Miller. “Most of the kids we serve show those improvements due to the volunteer’s attention and encouragement after a year of being matched up.”

The program positively affects young lives even years down the line. Just ask Val Jones, 24, who was a Little Brother back in 1999.

“[Big Brother] Charlie has been a great mentor to me since I was 11 years old,” Jones says. “He pushed me into education. We often went to the library and to bookstores. He really helped me out, shaped me into a man, and helped out with guy stuff. I grew up in a house with 10 women in my family and didn’t have many male influences.”

In the beginning, Jones and Charlie got together once a week, sometimes more, and then every other week when Jones became involved with sports in high school. They still get together for dinner and on other occasions even after all these years, and Jones says that in addition to feeling like part of Charlie’s family, Jones is now a mentor for Charlie’s five children.

Jones graduated from East Kentwood High School, and attends Davenport University. He will graduate in April with a degree in business management and administration. He’s currently interning at Wood TV 8 as a producer and wants to go into commercial property management.

“It meant a lot to me that [Charlie] took time out of his busy schedule to help me out, just a complete stranger encouraging me to one day be a role model for my own kids,” Jones says.

Big Brothers Big Sisters recruits, assesses, screens, and trains applicants. Screening includes determining personality, interests, and expectations. Volunteers’ preferences are considered.

Little Brother and Little Sister applicants and their families are also assessed. Approved Big Brother Big Sister applicants are matched to waiting, assessed kids with the goal of maintaining each match for at least one year.

“You don’t have to be special to be a volunteer,” says Miller. “Most volunteers are busy people who enjoy a break from their schedule to go have fun with a kid. It’s not an expensive commitment – you can go shopping, work in the yard and garden, go sledding.”

The key is to spend quality time with the child. Volunteers are not expected to be counselors or social workers, but once a friendship forms, often kids will open up and share what they’re going through. The Big Brother or Big Sister can share ideas on how to solve a problem.

The program provides support to volunteers during the match and will maintain monthly contact with the volunteer and child for the first year, and then quarterly thereafter. Parents and kids complete surveys to give feedback on how the match is working and what they think could be done to improve the program.

To learn more about becoming a mentor at D.A. Blodgett – St. John’s, visit www.dabsj.org. D.A. Blodgett-St. John’s is an accredited agency that works in partnership with the community providing comprehensive services to children and families, including Big Brothers Big Sisters, foster care, adoption, and family support, as well as residential treatment and emergency shelter care. The organization has been serving children since 1887.

Get involved:
Become a Big Brother or Big Sister.

Victoria Mullen is Rapid Growth Media's Do Good Editor.

Photography by Adam Bird
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