On the street
Yes, my pastor. He saw some promise in me and also some wildness, naturally.
Joshua Clark and Cole Curry are brothers, sort of.
They get together once a week, spend a few hours together and then part ways.
But the brief time they do spend together is special for both.
The “brothers” are matched up through Big Brothers Big Sisters of Douglas County and are among tens of thousands of children and adults in Kansas who are paired as a part of dozens of mentoring programs in the state.
Joshua lives in Lawrence with his single mother and three sisters. Without Curry, 22, Joshua would have very little male interaction in his life.
“That’s something you almost just have to have … someone you can confide in and be with and spend some time with,” says Curry, a Kansas University student from Wichita.
While Curry hung out at Joshua’s house to play Nintendo Wii video games after school on a recent Thursday, one of Joshua’s sisters, Emaleigh, was off to the library with her mentor. That’s where they played video games as part of an after-school program.
Three of Jennifer Clark’s children were matched up with volunteer mentors about a year ago after she went through a divorce.
“It’s been a godsend,” she says. “They have special time, they have inspiration and they have a role model, somebody to look up to.”
The children look forward to spending time away from mom with a caring adult they can confide in.
“Mom’s hard to talk to sometimes, and it’s easier to go out and talk to my ‘Big’ than with my mom sometimes,” says Emaleigh, 11.
Each week, the children do something unique with their mentors, such as eating out, visiting the Lawrence Humane Society, making crafts, going on bike rides, swimming, playing sports or going to museums.
Many children in need aren’t so fortunate.
The state estimates there are 50,000 Kansas children who are in need of volunteer mentors, according to a 2006 survey.
BBBS is one of about eight programs in Douglas County that works to match children with adults.
Girl Scouts of Northeast Kansas and Northwest Missouri matches mentors with young girls who have mothers that are incarcerated. As part of the organization’s Beyond Bars program, every week the mentor drives the child to prison to see their mother and serves as the connection between the two.
Douglas County CASA Inc. works to match mentors with neglected children and youth.
Other organizations include Boys and Girls Club of Lawrence, Kansas International Order of the Rainbow for Girls, Roger Hill Volunteer Center and RSVP of Shawnee and Douglas Counties.
“There are children of all backgrounds, all walks of life,” says Ella Todd, director of Kansas Mentors, a state program that assists state community organizations recruit mentors for children.
The program, which falls under the Kansas Department of Health and Environment, is working to encourage thousands of responsible adults to enter a mentoring relationship. In the program’s three years in existence, it has helped recruit and match 5,550 volunteers in the state.
Todd says many people have misconceptions about the commitment of being a mentor. She says it takes relatively little time and is rewarding.
“It’s something that you wind up looking forward to, and it really is a bright spot in your week,” Todd says.
Gail Gribble, of Lawrence, says he’s found personal satisfaction in being matched up with a 12-year-old. After raising two kids, who are now grown, Gribble says his pairing with Jack Batchelor helps prevent empty-nest syndrome.
“It’s been a pretty neat adventure,” the mentor says.
The two meet each Sunday as a part of the BBBS program. In addition to fishing and hanging out, Jack and Gribble are also learning how to fly an airplane.
“It’s really a neat thing,” Gribble says. “It’s very satisfying.”
With the state’s need for thousands of additional mentors, whether it’s flying planes or visiting museums, current volunteers say every bit’s worth it.
“It’s really rewarding for both sides,” Curry says.