Advocates Seek More Mentors for Virginia Youth
January is National Mentoring Month, an initiative that raises awareness about the positive impact of mentoring. One of the largest mentoring organizations, Big Brothers Big Sisters, has connected youth with positive role models for decades. But in many parts of the country, including Central Virginia, there’s not enough mentors to meet the community’s needs. For Virginia Currents, Catherine Komp has more.
At Richmond’s Urban Farmhouse, Maurice Gallimore and Quran Davis order some sandwiches and soup and take a seat at a table near the window.
Maurice Gallimore: Our new thing now is going somewhere we haven’t eaten before. How do you like the sandwich? Quran Davis: Good, it has a little spice to it too.
Gallimore and Davis were matched up three years ago by the greater Richmond chapter of Big Brothers, Big Sisters.
Davis: He was a great listener and he liked most of the things I wanted to do like basketball, all types of sports.
Gallimore: >Quran was very shy at that time but afterwards we just really bonded. It was pretty easy especially when we’re playing basketball, we play one-on-one and he’s got a good jump shot.
Gallimore and Davis have lots of fun, like playing laser tag, going to the Y and visiting just about every park in Richmond, Chesterfield and Henrico. One memory in particular, learning how to ski, makes both of them laugh.
Gallimore: There’s this huge hill, and we haven’t even practiced the lesson and the guide with us said, stay around here and all of a sudden I see Quran go down this huge hill...
Davis: I was trying to put on my skis, I just feel, I didn’t try to fall, I was was trying to get my balance and I just started rolling down the hill.
Gallimore: I’m trying to stand up because I was falling off my skis, I said to the guy don’t worry about me, please check if my little brother’s okay.
Davis: And I got up and the man I was with he was like you stay right there, I just started walking up the hill and I kept falling and getting back up.
Gallimore: About ten minutes later I saw Quran walking back up and I was like, You made it all the way down? And he was like, Yeah, but I didn’t know how to stop so I just fell. And we were both laughing and the guide was like oh my gosh are you okay? And then after we were there for the whole day we pretty much mastered how to see skii without falling. But that was a really fun event because we were both out of our element but at end of day we both learned how to ski.
The two also set goals for 13-year-old Davis, like improving his athletic endurance and getting better grades. And Davis says their relationship has helped him grow more confident. These outcomes are exactly what Big Brothers Big Sisters hopes to achieve through their matches.
Ann Payes: We have parents calling us all the time.
Ann Payes is Executive Director of the Greater Richmond and Tri Cities chapter.
Ann Payes: Parents wants their kids to succeed, we want to help them. But right now we have a waiting list of over 1100 children and that’s without doing any advertising.
Payes says their biggest challenge is finding male mentors.
Payes: We have a big supply and demand problem. About 75% of the requests we get for mentors are from parents of boys, only about one-quarter of our volunteers are men so we’re constantly looking for male volunteers.
Many of the youth come from low-income families and single parent households, says Payes. Some have lost parents or live with extended family.
Payes: One of our great little brothers, he lives with his grandparents and they’re not physically able to take him out and do the things that every child should have the opportunity to do, so his big brother has been really active outside, in sport, has pets, has a garden and he’s enabled his little brother to participate in those activities.
In an effort to foster meaningful relationships, Big Brother Big Sisters staff match mentors and youth with similar interests. They’re also in regular contact with them to make sure the match is working out. Volunteers can choose to meet with youth at their school for an hour a week or participate in community-based mentoring, like going out to parks and events, for about nine hours per month.
Payes: What they do based on own interest. I’ve seen our matches at everything from University of Richmond basketball games to craft workshops at the Visual Arts Center to the Richmond Christmas parade, so it’s almost any activity. All the activities are focused around hitting the youth outcomes development which is the way that the child builds their own goals for how they want to improve.
While youth benefit greatly, the experience is also rewarding for the Big Brothers and Sisters. Maurice Gallimore, who won Big Brother of the Year in 2014, says his relationship with Quran Davis has taught him valuable lessons.
Gallimore: The key thing that I’ve learned from him is that there’s hope, there’s hope for our youth and he’s making me a better person, a better father, a better friend, neighbor, he challenges me in those ways in just really continuing to give back, and I think that’s something I want to continue to do.
Big Brothers Big Sisters of Greater Richmond and Tri-Cities currently serves about 500 youth. With more mentors, they’re hoping to increase that number to 600 by the end of the year. For Virginia Currents, this is Catherine Komp, WCVE News.