Unlock a child’s true potential to succeed by becoming a mentor | Opinion

Adults who mentor children can help improve the trajectory of their mentees’ lives.
Adults who mentor children can help improve the trajectory of their mentees’ lives. Getty Images

Now that students are fully settled into the school year, it’s important that we equip them with the resources and life tools to ensure that they are positioned to succeed.

The start of the school year can set the tone for the remainder of the year, and students who struggle early on may find themselves playing catch-up later. Students need to be properly positioned to develop and grow to their full potential. One of the most effective ways to accomplish this is through a mentorship relationship.

Mentoring is a powerful way to make a tangible and lifelong difference in the lives of children in need. It is not only rewarding for the mentored. It also provides a rich experience for the mentor.

Unfortunately, there are too many children in need of mentoring and not enough qualified and willing mentors. Big Brothers Big Sisters of Miami (BBBSM) cannot stress enough the importance of volunteering and stepping up to be the positive influence that is often missing in the lives of these children. Our organization has spent the past 60 years making a difference through various programs, such as site-based mentoring and School to Work, which make up 67 percent of BBBS matches. These programs match each “Little” with their own “Big,” allowing for a one-to-one mentoring experience that is engaging and invaluable in unlocking the true potential of our Littles.

Site-based mentoring usually takes place at either the Littles’ school or at our headquarters, the Carnival Center for Excellence. The center is an incredible resource that allows us to better engage with families and volunteers taking part in our programs. It is a place for fostering academic enrichment, digital literacy, health and wellness and much more. Big Brothers Big Sisters exists as a result of the incredible Miami residents who donate a most valuable and most scarce resource — their time.

Providing such services would be impossible without the tremendous help of our corporate partners and donors. Without them, we would be unable to have the same impact. But what’s really needed is you, your experience, wisdom and heart. The daily cost to support a one-to-one friendship (match) is the price of a large coffee.

Mentoring has an incredible correlation with school performance, both academically and behaviorally. Of those Littles who reach the 12-month mark with their match, 88 percent maintain or improve academic performance, 94 percent maintain or improve their attitudes toward risky behaviors and an outstanding 99.6 percent of that group are promoted to the next grade or graduate successfully from high school.

This progress continues past high school, with 96 percent of Littles enrolling in college or a trade/vocational school. Our mentorship programs help students stay in school and out of trouble, and allow them to attain the academic success many had previously been unable to achieve. Once our Littles begin pursuing higher education, BBBSM and its partners work to reward hundreds of them with scholarships that help relieve the financial burden of school. For the class of 2019, over $1.6 million was awarded in scholarships.

BBBSM can make a huge difference in children’s lives, as evidenced by some of the amazing things many of our Littles have gone on to achieve. One such remarkable Little, Antonio, who after 11 years with us, went on to study at the University of Pennsylvania. Antonio recently graduated with two degrees in business and engineering — all while returning the favor and volunteering as a Big in Philadelphia. He is now moving to Seattle to work at Microsoft. Antonio was always capable of reaching such great heights, and we are glad we were able to unlock his potential and give him the tools he needed to prosper.

Too many people look at mentoring as something nice to do, but the reality is that it is necessary. There are thousands of children out there like Antonio who need proper guidance and mentorship to flourish, but without more volunteers, it will be hard. I know many who are reading this are capable of volunteering and making a difference as a mentor. I ask that they consider bringing about a positive change for a youth in need during this school year.

Gale S. Nelson is president and CEO of Big Brothers Big Sisters of Miami.