More than 300 inquiries about mentoring young people have poured into Big Brothers Big Sisters of Greater Chesapeake, the branch of the nonprofit serving the city, from adults interested in working with one of the 600-plus kids on the local waiting list, according to a press release. That compares with 641 inquiries received from Baltimore in all of 2014.
The organization’s CEO attributes this week’s surge to people watching news of the unrest and feeling compelled to help young people find better ways to express themselves.
Receiving so many inquiries in a week is unprecedented, Terry Hickey, CEO of Big Brothers Big Sisters of Greater Chesapeake, told The Huffington Post.
“A lot of what’s come out of the last few days is the realization that people don’t tend to listen to young people,” Hickey said. “And a big part of not having [a] strong adult role model in their life is that [they’ve] got nobody to share their troubles with. I can’t stress enough the importance of getting to know kids, getting to know where they’re coming from, what their challenges are, offering suggestions and help.”
That’s exactly what Daniel D’LuGoff is trying to do for little brother Jontae Wilson.
“Being a teenager just generally is not fun or easy,” said D’LuGoff, 28. “It can be hard to trust your parents and a lot of figures and authority. … It can be good to have somebody else that you can turn to who just listens.”
Wilson, 18, lives in West Baltimore — not too far from where this week’s unrest was centered. Since December, he’s been involved in Big Brothers Big Sisters’ Positive Pathways Program, a youth leadership program that helps kids who have had contact with the juvenile justice system develop leadership and work skills.
Big Brothers Big Sisters of Greater Chesapeake is the largest mentoring organization in the Baltimore area, with more than 1,000 littles brothers and little sisters actively enrolled in mentoring. About half in Baltimore, Hickey said.
Wilson said the program has played a significant role in his life. He said he finds D’LuGoff funny, cool — and great overall.
The program “made me think about a lot of stuff and how I can change my ways,” he said. “It’s a big help, especially with Daniel being like a big brother.”
“He’d never would do anything or tell me anything wrong,” Wilson added. “Every time I go through something, he always asks about it … He likes to ask and know what happened — that’s what I really respect about him.”
Wilson has been playing a role in the community as well. He participated in a post-protest cleanup on Thursday. On Friday, he and D’LuGoff planned to attend a march downtown.
“I just want to hear what he’s feeling and give him some opportunity to voice his concerns and feel a part of going on,” D’LuGoff said.
Understanding why Baltimore’s young people are angry, and listening to their frustrations, is important, Hickey said.
“When you apply to be to be a mentor, you get trained. We do a lot of talking about cultural competency and what to expect and how to listen,” Hickey said. “You know, as an adult sometimes we just need to shut up and listen to what young people are telling us. I don’t think it’s important for an adult to think they have the answers.”
Big Brothers Big Sisters tries to match kids with a mentor from a similar background, but that’s not always possible, Hickey said. The organization ensures the mentor is equipped to help their little brother or little sister by assigning a staff member who is available any time for advice.
“Trust is a huge issue in these neighborhoods — and that’s what we focus on,” Hickey said.
“We’ve had a hard time finding men who come from a similar background as the youth we’re placing, and what started to change that dramatically and fast are the results of the last week,” Hickey added. “We’re hoping that we get more of them from the communities” where youths on the waiting list come from.
Big Brothers Big Sisters said research shows that after 18 months of mentoring, little brothers and little sisters were 46 percent less likely to use illegal drugs, 27 percent less likely to begin using alcohol, 52 percent less likely to skip school and 33 percent less likely to hit someone than children not in the program, according to the organization’s press release.
“They really care about people doing the right thing,” Wilson said. “There’s not one time I’ve been to the program or I’ve been with Daniel and I felt like they weren’t doing something right.”