As an elected official, I am often asked to serve on various Boards of Directors and Advisory Boards for different non-profits. Usually the commitment involves attending meetings when possible, providing strategic direction and assisting in fundraising and promoting awareness. One organization caught my interest and drove me to invest much more, and the results have been spectacular.
Last year, I was asked to serve on the advisory board of Big Brothers Big Sisters of Washington County; but instead of just serving on the board, I decided to actually become a Big Brother. It was one of the best decisions I have ever made.
I am actually the oldest of four children in my family, so I’ve been a big brother in the strictest sense of the word since I was fourteen months old. But the mission of Big Brothers Big Sisters is so important, I felt compelled to give the most valuable thing I have, which is my time.
When I first started my legal career, I did lots of cases in the local juvenile justice system. I saw children doing stupid things, and often-illegal things, knocking their lives off-track mainly because they lacked any real adult role model who cared enough to step in and keep them on the straight and narrow. Single parent families where the parent is off working create a huge void in a child’s life too often filled with bad behavior are also a huge problem, and it’s hard to blame a parent for going off to work in order to put food on the table.
I had a case once where a local 14 year-old boy was sent away to a juvenile detention center because he fell in with a bad crowd and did some stupid things that probably could have been prevented if someone had just paid attention to him. He went away as a punk, but came back six months later as a clean-cut young man with a brand new personality. When he shook my hand and called me ‘sir’ in the courtroom, I thought they had brought the wrong kid; the change was that dramatic. He was released from detention and sent home, where his mother worked at night, leaving only his older brothers, criminals in their own right, to take care of him. Two months later, he was arrested and sent away again, worse off than when he started. In retrospect, the kid never had a chance.
Experiences like the one I just described are why I’m proud to give my time to be a Big Brother. The program is simple; you get matched up with a Little and you get together about twice a month for three to five hours per outing. My match is ‘community based’, which means we go out into the community and do whatever we want; there are also ‘site-based’ visits, which take place at a central site.
I’m not going to talk about my Little specifically, because it’s not appropriate to do so publicly, but he’s a great kid. My job as an elected official allows me to do some pretty cool stuff, and it’s a privilege to share those experiences with a young man to show that if you work hard and stay focused in life, it does pay off in the end. I am very careful to keep my politics out of my Big-Little relationship, which makes it a great way for me to escape the crucible of public debate and just enjoy life once in a while. More importantly, I feel as though by investing my time and energy, I’m helping him have a better chance to succeed in life.
Big Brothers Big Sisters of Washington County is recruiting both Bigs and Littles (children ages 6-13), male and female, for their programs. If you or anyone you know would qualify, please visit www.bbbspgh.org or call 724-228-9191. There is an emphasis on safety and BBBS staff regularly monitors the status of each match.
There is no cost to participate in the program, but we do need help in raising money for the organization. This Sunday, March 18, I will have a team in the annual Bowl for Kids’ Sake event at West Pike Bowl, and we’re looking for sponsors and donations; every little amount helps and is totally tax-deductible. If you are interested in helping make a difference in the lives of local kids, make a donation by visiting http://www.bbbspittsburgh.kintera.org/jwhite or calling 724-743-4444.
Help me make a difference through Big Brothers Big Sisters. If your experience is anything like mine has been, you’ll be unbelievably glad you did.