Mentoring a better life for youth

Monday January 9, 2012

BRATTLEBORO -- To kick off National Mentoring Month, "Bigs" and "Littles" from through the county gathered at SIT's Brattleboro campus for a pizza lunch, making New Year's resolutions and holding a scavenger hunt.

Rob Szpila, program director of Big Brothers Big Sisters, said the event was a huge success.

"These people genuinely care about the kids," Szpila said. "When you see how the ‘Bigs' interact with the ‘Littles' you can see the program works. Just a little bit of time makes a whole world of difference to these kids."

In January, Youth Services is attempting to recruit 40 new volunteers.

"This is our 40th anniversary this year and we wanted to kick it off by matching every one of our 40 children on our waiting list," Szpila said. "We're hoping that other people will commit to becoming a mentor this month and devote some of their time to these kids in need."

National research demonstrates that mentoring - pairing a caring adult volunteer with a young person for a mutually rewarding friendship -- is an effective method of addressing all sorts of youth-related issues, he said.

With these friendships in place the kids are far less likely to get involved with drugs, use alcohol, have violent outbursts and in a lot of cases helps them have a better relationship with their families and peers, Szpila said.

Christopher Wallace said becoming a mentor to children has always been a passion of his but because of his career he couldn't commit.

"It's something I've wanted to do for many years but I couldn't while I was serving in the military," he said.

Wallace, of Grafton, spent 25 years in the Army and was constantly traveling, which made it impossible to devote any time, he said.

Wallace's "Little" Jordan Powers, 12, of Grafton, said he's a great cook and makes everything fun, especially hikes.

Windham County Sheriff Keith Clark said his decision to become a big brother last summer was based on his many hours of duty.

"Through my job as sheriff I've gotten to see how many kids are in need in this county," Clark said. "With two grown daughters out of the house I have a little extra time to spend and I couldn't think of a better way to use it."

Clark's "little brother," 9-year-old Austin Powers, Jordan's brother, also of Grafton, said his favorite activity is going on motorcycle rides with Clark.

Seventeen-year-old Jesse O'Neil, of Brattleboro, said at first he wanted to join Big Brothers Big Sisters because he never had a younger sibling.

"But then it became so much more," he said. "I've got to become a mentor."

For more than a year O'Neil has volunteered his time to spend with his ‘Little' Trevor Blum, 10, of Brattleboro.

As part of Saturday's event, the Brattleboro branch of TD Bank supplied each of the ‘Littles' with a $35 savings account.

According to the staff at Big Brothers Big Sisters, there are 40 young people on their waiting list and they need 10 mentors in Bellows Falls, five in Wilmington, eight in Townshend and Newfane and 17 in and around Brattleboro.

Some of these children have been waiting for more than a year, Szpila said.

For more information on volunteering, call Big Brothers Big Sisters at 802-257-0361.

Josh Stilts can be reached at, or 802-254-2311 ext. 273.


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