A few hours of bowling, watching a movie or playing in the park each month doesn’t seem like a momentous occasion.
But for Garrett Crowthers, it has made all the difference in his life.
The 17-year-old Whiteland resident was floundering and lost. With the help of his mentor, Dan Seacat, and their pairing through the Big Brothers Big Sisters program, Crowthers discovered a passion for machining, became immersed in the program at Central Nine Career Center and feels confident about his future.
“Having a mentor has led me towards being a better person and led me towards a better career,” he said. “Once I started working with (Dan), everything started to look good. It has led me towards a better life.”
Research has shown the immense benefits that mentorship can have. But for Big Brothers Big Sisters of Central Indiana, finding men to be “big brothers” for boys and teenagers is always a challenge.
The program has seven boys on its waiting list because of the lack of male volunteers signed up to be mentors, according to Darcey Palmer-Shultz, CEO of Big Brothers Big Sisters of Central Indiana.
“Not everyone knows that we have a lot of boys waiting and have a need for male volunteers,” she said. “So we need to make people aware of it before they can decide if it’s something they want to do.”
The organization’s central Indiana chapter serves Marion, Hamilton and Johnson counties and has made a significant effort to grow the number of mentors in Johnson County. The goal this year was to sign up at least 75 volunteers. So far, they’ve reached 68.
“We want to make sure more kids are benefiting from the Big Brothers Big Sisters program,” Palmer-Schultz said.
Mentoring helps children achieve greater success academically, overcome behavioral issues and develop the confidence and vision that will provide a better future, Palmer-Schultz said. After 18 months in the program, children are 46 percent less likely to use illegal drugs, 27 percent less likely to begin using alcohol and 52 percent less likely to skip school.
“We’re able to work individually with every child and introduce them to someone who’s a positive role model and help with positive decisions. That can be important, because that’s not necessarily the easiest thing for a parent to do,” Palmer-Schultz said.
A scarcity of male volunteers is a problem that Big Brothers Big Sisters struggles with nationwide, she said. Of the mentors who were matched with kids last year in central Indiana, 55 percent were female while 45 percent were male.
Traditionally, individual mentors are paired with a child who has been referred to the program. Girls are matched with women, while boys meet with men.
But in recent years, Big Brothers Big Sisters has developed other options for people wishing to volunteer as mentors to appeal to more people, Palmer-Schultz said. Couples can mentor a single child together, as can groups of close friends, sisters, brothers and other duos.“We’re always working hard to get men volunteers into the program, so we see a lot more female volunteers,” Palmer-Schultz said. “With these options, we can match a couple with a boy who needs a mentor or two.”But with male volunteers in particular, Big Brothers Big Sisters has found a problem is uncertainty about the time commitment and being unsure what they’d do to be a successful mentor.
“That’s something the agency really tries to do, offering a lot of activities and a lot of tickets to sporting events and other events in the community,” Palmer-Schultz said. “There are a lot of opportunities to make that easy and reduce the anxiety of not knowing what to do.”
That was the biggest concern for Joel Ng when he signed up for the Big Brothers Big Sisters program. The 28-year-old southside resident found himself going through some relationship difficulties and wanted to do something for the community to pick himself up.
“It was brought to my attention that if you’re going through something and you go out of your way to help someone else, your problems become a little smaller,” Ng said.
He knew about Big Brothers Big Sisters and what the organization did. What he was uncertain about was how to actually help a young person. Working with a mentor of his own through his church, Ng came to realize that any time he could spend with a young person would be worthwhile.
“He said that my little brother would probably just appreciate the fun things we could do,” he said. “I’ve found it’s very rewarding to be able to connect with my little and slowly develop this relationship we’ve had for the past couple of months.”
Ng and his little brother, Benjamin, go to the park, play Yu-Gi-Oh! card games and attended Colts games together.“It doesn’t take much for him to have a good time,” Ng said. “What you don’t think is a lot actually ends up being a lot.”Potential mentors need to be at least 19 years old and need to commit for at least one year. Research has shown that a yearlong relationship will get the best results for the child, Palmer-Schultz said.
Prospective mentors fill out an application, are interviewed and have a background check performed before they can become mentors. Training is provided on how to relate to their little brother or sister, and staff members from Big Brothers Big Sisters provide regular guidance throughout the program.
Mentors typically see their little brother or sister twice a month, though they can get together more or less if they want to.
Seacat said he signed up for Big Brothers Big Sisters out of a desire to be a good citizen. His three sons were grown and moved out of the home, and the southside resident felt that the guidance he had provided them could help another young man in need.
The organization paired him with Crowthers. They started getting together a couple of times a month, going to see a movie, bowling or spending an afternoon watching baseball or football. Together, they discovered a friendly competition playing racquetball at the Baxter YMCA. As Crowthers got older, they started riding dirt bikes and took a motorcycle riding class together.
“It’s been very rewarding. I thought it would be good, but it’s been better than I thought it would be,” Seacat said. “I’ve got the best little brother.”
How to sign up to be a mentor
- Be 19 years old or older.
- Be able to meet with a child on average two to four times a month, for a minimum of four hours per month.
- Commit for at least 12 months.
- Must be willing to complete interview process, including background check.
- For complete volunteer requirements, go to bebigforkids.org
How to sign up to be a little brother or sister
Interested families can go to bebigforkids.org to sign up online, or contact Linda Perry at email@example.com or 472-3744.