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CNY Children Continue to Lack Adult Mentors

Roughly 130 Onondaga County children linger on a waiting list to be matched with an adult mentor through PEACE Inc. Big Brothers Big Sisters, said John Bruzdzinski, director.

The problem is not new—nor is it limited to Syracuse. Nationwide, the number of children on waiting lists for a Big Brother or Big Sister far exceeds the volunteers available. According to Big Brothers Big Sisters of America, across the country 30,000 children—known as “littles”—await matches with mentors, or “bigs.” The organization, founded in 1904, last year adopted a new brand to emphasize the importance of finding mentors of all generations.

“The need in our communities for young people to have a role model is more urgent than ever, and we must evolve as an organization to meet that need,” said Pam Iorio, Big Brothers Big Sisters of America president and CEO in a statement.

The local affiliate of BBBS, which is sponsored by PEACE Inc., a nonprofit organization, runs three mentoring programs. One is located in a workplace, BNY Mellon, with 10 kids, and one is a school-based program working with area high schools and colleges, with 70 children participating.

The one for which Big Brothers Big Sisters is best known, the community-based program, currently serves 53 kids, ages 5 to 12. In that program, adult bigs connect with their littles for a minimum of eight hours a month. They might go for walks, visit playgrounds, shop for groceries and talk on the phone. Sometimes they attend sporting events, such as watching free Syracuse University lacrosse or soccer games, or picking up tickets to see a baseball game.

Bruzdzinski and his coworkers have stepped up their recruiting efforts in order

to match more adults with the growing list of children. Staffers have spoken to groups, done many presentations and marketed the program extensively.

“The total number of kids that come from disadvantaged circumstances is increasing all the time,” he said in a phone interview. All the children in the community-based mentoring program live in Onondaga County, but big brothers or sisters can be from nearby communities.

Most of the children on the list are male, and most of the mentors are female. People seeking a big sibling for their child typically say “I want a mentor,” without specifying a man or woman. Mentors can be married or single, though most are single. Some even have children of their own but make time to mentor other children as well.

Activities do not have to cost the mentors money, though often a big will buy a snack. “We don’t expect them to spend one cent on their little,” Bruzdzinski said. The little siblings don’t require pricey outings. “The little’s looking at it like that ‘someone’s taking care of me, someone’s talking to me.’”

Mentors receive training to prepare them for the experience. They’re provided with suggestions for things to do with their littles. And they’re given guidance on how to respond if family conflict or other dilemmas come up during their time with their little.

Bruzdzinski continues to come up with new ways to connect with potential mentors. The organization spent hours at the 2018 New York State Fair, received lots of positive responses, and signed up a list of more than 150 people interested in learning more about mentorship. That list ultimately led to a mere 10 volunteers—a small yield for so much time spent talking to fair visitors.

Bruzdzinski and his team believe that mentors can make a big difference in the lives of children. Research they cite indicates that children with mentors are less likely to succumb to peer pressure or use drugs or alcohol, and they’re more likely to attend college. So the team at Big Brothers Big Sisters perseveres in efforts to match children with adult volunteers.

For more information about becoming a mentor, call John Bruzdzinski at (315) 470-3369, Ext. 308.

JCC Offers Free Tutoring

Children in kindergarten through grade 2 and grades 5 and 6 who struggle with reading can get free tutoring starting Feb. 4. The program will take place at the Jewish Community Center of Syracuse, which has received a grant from the Michelle Schotz Foundation for the purpose. Tutors will be paired with individual students and meet on Mondays and Wednesdays, 4:30 to 5:30 p.m. A small-group writer’s workshop for students in the same grades will take place Mondays and Wednesdays, 5:30 to 6 p.m.

Tutors are certified teachers finishing their master’s degrees in literacy at SUNY Oswego. The program will run through early May and is expected to resume in the fall. The program is available to children in the JCC’s after school program and eligible young people in the community. Space in the program is limited.

Interested parents should contact Patricia Ranieri, JCC director of children’s programming at (315) 445-2040, Ext. 123, or pranieri@jccsyr.org.

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