Wednesday, October 8, 2008

Big Brothers and Big Sisters Make a Difference

BOSTON—(Oct.2,2008) Big Brothers of Massachusetts Bay along with their “little brothers” pose with Mark Stuart and Andrew Alberts of the Boston Bruins and Blades, the Bruins mascot in Prudential Center after playing a round of mini golf with hockey sticks for the Puck-Putt Challenge.

By Margaret DeJesus (

Imagine being an 11-year-old child hopping off the school bus and entering an empty home. Parents may have to work extra long hours to put food on the table which might mean less time to go over homework problems or to kick around a soccer ball at the park.

For many children in Boston and around the country this can be a daily reality. Adults who volunteer their time to mentor a child can make a difference while getting the chance to let out their inner 10-year-old.

“Providing youth with a role model, a mentor, someone to look up to, is critical. Many people have a misperception about the time requirement needed to play a role in young lives,” said Meghan Keaney, the director of communications with United Way of Massachusetts Bay and Merrimack Valley in an email.

“There are currently more than 5,000 youth on a waiting list to be matched with a mentor. So yes, absolutely, we need to get the word out,” she said.

Spending an afternoon playing a round of mini golf with hockey sticks and professional hockey players from the Boston Bruins is certainly one creative way to engage the city’s youth and adults and “get the word out.”

The Puck-Putt challenge held at the Prudential Center on Boylston Avenue last Thursday afternoon built on smiles, high-fives and laughter brought together children, teenagers and their mentors from various groups.

Sponsored by United Way, Boston Properties and the Boston Bruins as part of the inspire4life campaign, the event featured a mini miniature golf course set up on the marble floor of the Belvedere Arcade area of the mall. Defensemen Andrew Alberts and Mark Stuart of the Boston Bruins attended along with the team’s mascot.

Getting a hole in one was cause for celebration for many of the younger kids who threw up their hands in the air as it was pretty tough to maneuver the rather large, orange rubber ball down the small stretch of green into the hole with a plastic hockey stick.

“Hey guys. How you doing? I’m Andrew.” Andrew Alberts, the 6-foot-5-inch tall athlete while donning his Bruins jersey held out his hand to two kids gathered around hole three of the makeshift golf course and introduced himself. “Did you see our game last night?” Awkward silence and nervous smiles from the kids followed.

“ No?” he asked surprised pretending to be offended when they shook their heads and laughed. “It’s okay the season doesn’t start until next Thursday anyway,” he smiled and signed their t-shirts to their delight.

United Way is a community impact organization which invests in various other partner agencies, such as Big Brothers Big Sisters, to solve issues regarding youth opportunities to success as well as employment and housing options for adults.

As of December of last year 5,311 youth were matched with supportive adult mentors because of United Way investments; 115,126 youth served in quality programs, and more than 1,700 parents reported being better able to support their children according to Ms. Keaney.

The “inspire4life” ad campaign was started to raise awareness about the benefits of mentoring a child and inspiring a child for life.

Mentors can come in all different shapes, sizes and walks of life from teachers to recent college grads to professional hockey players.

“I think it’s great for a young kid to have an idol to look up too. When I was growing up back in Minnesota, the NorthStars (former NHL hockey team) used to practice at a local rink nearby and a bunch of us kids used to go watch them play. Sometimes they’d stop and sign autographs, which was great because we looked up to those guys,” said Alberts explaining his pull to attend the event.

Bob McDermott, a fifth grade teacher at St. Mary of the Hills School in Milton, said that volunteering with Big Brothers of Massachusetts Bay provided him “a meaningful and memorable experience.” McDermott and his “little brother” Dmitri have enjoyed everything from arcades and movies to pizza and sandwiches at the beach.

“Anything we do is fun. Today is probably the best ever. It’s exciting playing with the hockey players,” said the 11-year-old.

Erin Sunderland, now a marketing manager with United Way, began volunteering as a Big Sister a year and a half ago.

“There’s something about interacting with a ten-year-old that’s just fun,” said the 26-year-old while sitting at United Way information table set up.

“If both parents work full time, it’s nice if a child has a member they can bond with outside of the family.”

United Way advertises that children who meet regularly with mentors are 33% less likely to resort to violence, 52% less likely to skip school and 46% less likely to start using illegal drugs.

Sunderland said that although she’s more of the cozy up with a book type, while her Little Sister is more active and outdoorsy, there were tons of things for them to bond on. Going for long walks, baking cupcakes, playing cards and playing Monopoly were just a few of the things the two enjoy together.

“I think I've benefitted by being able to feel like I'm giving back even if it is only in a very small way. She (her Little Sister) also reminds me not to take things too seriously and that it's okay to be silly once in awhile,” said Sunderland.

Mentors can also make a difference by just having a ready pair of ears to listen when a child wants someone outside of the home to talk to.

“She might feel more comfortable talking with me about certain things like maybe problems in schools since I’m younger,” said Sunderland. “Inspire4life is reminding people in the city that there are so many ways to get involved.”

Chris Devlin attended the Puck-Putt event with children from the South Boston Boys and Girls Club for at risk youth, where he’s volunteered for the last eight months. The 23-year-old recent graduate of Suffolk University looked youthful in his baseball cap while keeping score for his group’s golf game.

Devlin, who realized he enjoyed working with kids after various summer jobs, said the South Boston Club is good for the children because “it keeps them off the streets and out of trouble” by organizing sports and activities for them to get involved in after school.

“Getting watched over is nice,” said Paul Goslin, a 13-year-old student with the group whose shirt was covered in autographs from the Bruins and their mascot. He said he enjoyed taking field trips with the club, especially the end of the year trip to the theme park, Six Flags Great Adventure and added that the group has even volunteered at elderly homes.

Peg Sprague, the vice president of community impact at United Way, stressed in her speech at the event that there are many ways that adults in the community can help inspire a child.

From tutoring, to playing a game of monopoly, “getting involved could mean something as simple as smiling and saying ‘Hi,’ when you see a young person walking down the street,” she said.

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