National Mentoring Month highlights need for volunteers in Florida

MIAMI – January is National Mentoring Month, but when it comes to volunteering to help others, recent studies show Florida ranks lowest in the nation for volunteerism and Southeast Florida even lower than the state average.

Big Brothers Big Sisters of Miami strives to raise awareness of the value of mentoring a youth in need.

For the first nine years of his life, 15-year-old Cedrick never had a solid male role model; an absence, he says, that directly affected his attitude and behavior.

“I would say that I would have a lot of problems in primary school. I used to get kicked out for fighting to the point where they said they were going to arrest me or kick me out of school,” he said.

Cedrick got what he calls his “second chance” in 2015 when he joined the Big Brothers Big Sisters Miami program and was paired with Ronald Washington.

“I felt it would give me a chance to not only give back but also receive back, like learning from the next generation of kids, like Cedrick. He keeps me young,” Washington said.

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Gale Nelson, CEO of Big Brothers Big Sisters of Miami, said having a positive role model in a child’s formative years provides a definite and measurable benefit.

“They are of course checked for child safety, but we match them based on needs, skills, interests, how they’ve grown, what they may be missing,” he said. .

Nelson said nearly 100% of children in the program graduate from high school and 95% enroll in college or high school.

“We want them to stay together for at least a year, but they’ve had matches together for 10 years, 20 years, in each other’s marriages, so it’s really a powerful, life-changing experience for everyone. parties involved,” he said.

Beyond sanctioned activities, Cedrick and Washington created their own experiences.

“I can see us being friends when he’s an adult. We will maintain this contact because we have a history of experiences together,” Washington said.

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And because of the connection, Cedrick said he was doing something he never considered: planning his future.

“I want to be an NFL player and return that favor and be a ‘Big’ in the future and have my own business as a backup plan,” Cedrick said.

Nelson said the common argument for not volunteering is “time”, but he pointed out that even a few hours a month can make a big difference in someone’s life.

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