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Making a Difference

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Mentoring is no longer just a feel-good mission — it’s a necessity.moversshakersmay2014

I had the great privilege and honor to serve as a Big Brother through Big Brothers Big Sisters of Southeast Louisiana for a period of two years. During that time, I built a lifelong bond with a young man, whom I will forever consider my little brother. He had experienced a series of challenges prior to my coming into his life. His father was incarcerated and his mother was deceased. He was 14 and lived with his aging aunt and uncle, which created obvious gaps in being able to relate to them. He had experienced troubles in school and with the law.

Our relationship through BBBS provided him with someone he could relate to — someone who also grew up in a rough neighborhood and faced some similar challenges. We talked, played sports together, went to sporting events, discussed his future aspirations and took part in anything else you typically would do with a big brother. He is now 18, and has graduated from high school. While the credit for this young man completing high school — and, for the most part, staying out of trouble — goes to his aunt and uncle, I would like to believe that our relationship also played a small part.

I was very disappointed to recently learn that, due to funding issues, BBBS of Southeast Louisiana has ceased operations. So many other adults and youths will not have the opportunity to form the relationship I formed with my “little brother.”

In the city of New Orleans, with all of the challenges our young people face and our fight against crime, losing an organization such as BBBS is truly devastating. Mentoring the young people of New Orleans is not just a feel-good project. It is a vital necessity for New Orleans to be the city we all want her to be.

While the closing of the Southeast Louisiana chapter of BBBS is disappointing, fortunately, there are several other great community mentoring organizations for us to support. A group that has been doing outstanding work with young African-American males in our city is Son of a Saint. Every year, Son of a Saint selects 10 fatherless boys between the ages of 10 to 13 to join the program. The boys stay in the program until they receive their first college acceptance letter.

Son of a Saint focuses on four key areas. These are: education (providing tutoring services, and visiting the boys’ teachers and counselors to ensure they are maintaining above-average grades); group mentorship (holding day-long sessions every other weekend to help with the boys’ overall development); recreational access (supporting the boys’ participation in organized sports by assisting single mothers with enrollment fees and equipment needs — because Son of a Saint believes sports and recreation are important character-builders); and behavioral health (providing access to counseling services through the Children’s Bureau of New Orleans).

Other beneficial mentoring organizations in the city include New Orleans Kids Partnership, Communities In Schools and Each One Save One, among others. We as a community need to ensure that we are supporting the work of these organizations — both with our financial contributions to ensure their sustainability, and with our time by serving as mentors. The benefit in mentoring is not just for the young person; it’s very fulfilling for the adult mentor as well.