MIAMI – January is National Mentoring Month, but when it comes to volunteering to help others, recent studies show that Florida ranks lowest in the nation in volunteerism and southeast Florida even lower than the state average.
Big Brothers Big Sisters of Miami is working to raise awareness about the value of mentoring a young person in need.
For the first nine years of his life, 15-year-old Cedrick never had a solid male role model; an absence, he said, that directly affected his attitude and behavior.
“I would say I’d get in a lot of trouble in elementary school. I used to get referrals for fighting to the point where they said they would arrest me or kick me out of school,” he said.
Cedrick got what he calls his “second chance” in 2015 when he joined the Big Brothers Big Sisters of Miami program and was paired with Ronald Washington.
“I felt it would give me a chance to not only give back but also receive in return, like learn from the future generation of kids, like Cedrick. He keeps me young,” Washington said.
Gale Nelson, CEO of Big Brothers Big Sisters of Miami, said having a positive role model in a child’s formative years provides an unquestionable and measurable benefit.
“They’re vetted of course for child safety but we pair them based on needs, skills, interests, how they grew up, what they may be missing,” he said.
Nelson said nearly 100% of kids in the program graduate high school and 95% go on to enroll in college or secondary school.
“We want them to stay together for a minimum of one year but have matches that have been together 10 years, 20 years, been in each other’s weddings, so it’s really a powerful life-changing experience for all parties involved,” he said.
Beyond the sanctioned activities Cedrick and Washington have created their own experiences.
“I can see us being friends when he’s a grown adult. We’ll maintain that contact because we have a history of experiences together,” Washington said.
And because of the connection, Cedrick said he’s doing something he never once considered: planning for his future.
“I want to become an NFL player and return this favor and become a ‘Big’ in the future and actually have my own business as a backup plan,” Cedrick said.
Nelson said the common argument for not volunteering is ‘time’, but he pointed out that even a couple of hours a month can make a big difference in someone’s life.