National Mentoring Month Highlights Challenges in Mentoring

February 9, 2015Articles

January was National Mentoring Month and served as a strong reminder that many children in American families are often adrift with no meaningful role model to guide them. Many are from single-parent or low-income homes. Because single mothers typically have primary custody in divorced families, it is especially true that many boys do not have their fathers living at home. They lack strong male role models, guiding them on a daily basis as they develop.

Without the benefit of guidance from a trustworthy male friend or advocate, many of these boys earn poor grades and turn to truancy, drug and alcohol use and perhaps even prison or worse.

Ultimately they are unlikely to become contributing members of the community, helping to sustain our society’s infrastructure.

For organizations such as Big Brothers Big Sisters, the waiting lists are long for boys seeking qualified mentors because there are not enough male mentors. In the Pittsburgh region, the count is startling – approximately 212 boys are waiting for qualified mentors.

In the Big Brothers Big Sisters system, boys are paired with adult men and women and girls with adult women. Men make terrific volunteers and mentors. But we are often asked why there are not more men who can step up and play this vital role. While there are many theories regarding this, the honest answer is that we do not know.

It may be reluctance to make a time commitment, or it may be the perception of being on the proverbial “hook” for the well-being of a young person.

How important is mentoring within our culture? Researchers have found that after 18 months of spending time with their Big Brothers and Sisters, in comparison with children not in our program, boys and girls are 46 percent less likely to begin using illegal drugs; 27 percent are less likely to begin using alcohol; 52 percent are less likely to skip school; 37 percent are less likely to skip a class; and 33 percent are less likely to hit someone. Research also shows that “Littles” are more confident of their performance in school work, and have thriving family relationships.

Organizations like Big Brothers Big Sisters are also asked what they can do to attract more men to the cause. The national priority for Big Brothers Big Sisters is to hold itself accountable for specific youth outcomes, such as educational achievement, avoidance of risky behaviors and higher aspirations, greater confidence and better relationships. Its unique matching process and ongoing professional assistance for mentors, mentees and families helps sustain the long-term successful relationships.

Furthermore, Big Brothers Big Sisters has established in recent years a Young Professional Board and a Male Recruitment Advisory Board/BIG Recruitment Board. The goal of these groups is to look at the issue more deeply, to identify the obstacles that keep men from becoming mentors and to determine workable solutions. The organization is eager to dialogue and connect with other community groups who share the challenge.

On a national scale, Big Brothers Big Sisters is partnering with prominent role models who talk about their experiences. For example, in cooperation with the National Football League, it has valued the testimonies of coaches Tony Dungy and Lovie Smith about the importance of their real-life mentoring relationships. Academy and Grammy award-winner Jamie Foxx, along with other celebrity supporters, have recorded public service announcements aimed at increasing donations, volunteerism and alumni re-engagement.

Miss America 2012 Laura Kaeppeler has shared her story about experiencing her father’s incarceration, which motivated her to support Big Brothers Big Sisters’ Mentoring Children of Prisoners program. Former “Little” Darrin Smith, a two-time Super Bowl champion, has also encouraged alumni “Bigs” and “Littles” to re-engage.

But much more needs to be done community-wide to draw more adult males into the process of giving boys a hope and example for their future as stand-up men of our society.

Seth I. Corbin is an attorney with the Pittsburgh office of Fox Rothschild LLP, and president of the Board, Big Brothers Big Sisters of Greater Pittsburgh. Contact him at [email protected] or learn more about BBBS at www.bbbspgh.org . If you are interested in being a Big contact BBBS at 412.363.6100.