Op-Ed

It’s the season to help a kid

Want to do something meaningful this holiday season? Consider becoming a volunteer mentor for Big Brothers Big Sisters of Greater Miami.

That’s the message from the venerable agency, one of Miami-Dade’s oldest. The first local chapter opened in 1958 when Dwight D. Eisenhower was president. But how many people realize that?

And often Big Brothers Big Sisters finds itself being confused with other youth agencies, mainly the Boys & Girls Club of America.

But Big Brothers Big Sisters is out to change all that — they are out to refresh their brand, become more social media savvy and showcase their significant work.

“We change the lives of young people,” BBBS President Lydia Muniz recently told the Miami Herald Editorial Board. That’s something to crow about.

They say national research shows that children enrolled in their programs are more likely to improve in school and in their family relationships, and less likely to skip school or use drugs or alcohol. Kudos to them.

The backbone of their work is the mentors they recruit and scrutinize, all average people who want to take someone elses‘ kid under their wing, becoming a constant adult presence in their troubled lives.

Annually, 2,100 at-risk children are paired off with trained mentors. But there’s a long waiting list of children. Unfortunately, Miami-Dade has an unhappy distinction. “It’s last in the number of people who volunteer for a major city,” Gale Nelson, BBBS’s senior VP told the Editorial Board.

So the agency is also expanding into a new kind of corporate partnership in their efforts to find community-based mentoring. They’re asking major companies to invite Big Brothers Big Sisters children into their offices as a learning tool. “The idea is to get kids to see what gets done in an office,” Mr. Nelson said. A simple taste of real life, but one that is likely foreign to them.

The agency’s push for all kinds of volunteers comes during the holiday season. What better time?

Many young people in our community have struggling parents who abuse, neglect or abandon them. Sadly, 50 to 60 kids every day enter the Miami-Dade foster care system.

On the front lines are Guardian Ad Litem volunteers who recently expressed their concern to the Editorial Board about the 800 foster kids whose case management is currently in limbo after CHARLEE Homes for Children stopped monitoring their cases. The state will soon reshuffle then to other agencies, but members of Voices For Children, the fundraising arm of the Guardian Ad Litem Program, expressed concern.

Those in the trenches like Gail Appelrouth, past chair of Voices board of directors said foster children are getting short-shrifted in the administrative upheaval as agencies under the Our Kids umbrella close or are locked in divisiveness.

“Foster care kids are the step kids of the system,” Ms. Applerouth said.

Currently, there are 500 Guardian Ad Litem volunteers. They provide a powerful voice for a foster child, in court and in getting them needed services. Needless to say, many more guardians are needed.

But no one has it worse this holiday than the 125 foster kids aging out of the system as they turn 18. They will now be on their own.

To volunteer to become a Big Brothers Big Sisters mentor, call 305-644-0066 or go to www.wementor.org

To volunteer to become a Guardian Ad Litem, call 305-638-6861.

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