Big People Making Differences in Small Lives

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If it weren’t for KROQ’s Kevin and Bean Show, fourth-year international studies major Jason Fukao might still be brotherless. That show convinced Fukao to join Big Brothers Big Sisters of America, an organization more than 100 years old, which matches a mentor with children ages six to 18. Mentors are lovingly referred to as ‘big brothers’ or ‘big sisters’ and matched with a ‘little brother’ or ‘little sister.’
Fukao’s little brother does not have a proactive male figure in his life. His parents are divorced and he lives at home with his mother. Fukao would take him to the park to play baseball or basketball with him, or to the beach to swim. At one time he was really struggling with school, so Fukao took him to the Science Library at UC Irvine to work on his homework.
Thousands of BBBS matches across the country have proven to make a difference in the lives of these children. According to http://www.bbbs.org, national research has shown that participation in BBBS makes little brothers or sisters 52 percent less likely to skip school, 46 percent less likely to begin using illegal drugs, and 27 percent less likely to begin underage drinking.
Megan Gerkins, site-based match support specialist for BBBS of Orange County, has also taken note of the positive changes for these mentored children. ‘Many parents report significant changes in their children’s attitudes toward school and home life since they have been matched,’ Gerkins said. ‘I was also amazed to hear that siblings were getting along better at home since they were matched to a big brother or big sister.’
Third-year psychology and social behavior major Samira Mandegary who has been matched with her little sister for a year, sees how being part of this organization has impacted her little sister’s life. ‘I have an older sister and I know that she is one of the people I can always turn to because she will always be there for me and I feel that my little and I have slowly developed that kind of relationship,’ Mandegary said. ‘My little is also a very shy girl so this has given her the opportunity to really come out of her shell and she has become a more confident person.’
Monica Trigoso, second-year sociology major, has tips on getting to know your little brother or sister. ‘Ease into hanging out with them and be patient if they are too shy and too introverted. It takes time,’ Trigoso said.
College students make great mentors for these kids. ‘Many of these children do not have much access to people who are in college,’ Gerkins said. ‘College students can answer the question, ‘Why should I graduate from sixth grade?’ or ‘What does it matter if I get good grades?’ As a college student you can show a young person that learning can be exciting. The beauty of college is that generally you get to study what you are interested in. Many youth don’t get a chance to even really think about what it is they are interested in or good at.’ For those who think they can’t fit a new little brother or sister into their busy schedules, BBBS has programs such as BIG Impact, where a big group of bigs and their littles meet once a month for an event. These events include kayaking, rock climbing, bowling and miniature golfing. This month’s event is at Balboa Island, which includes a cruise around the harbor and rides on the Ferris wheel. These events are all paid for.
Currently, there is a great need for mentors, especially for big brothers. According to BBBS, over 70 percent of children waiting to be matched are male, yet only 30 percent of those who inquire about being a mentor are male.
‘I hope more UCI students can devote their time to organizations such as BBBS,’ Fukao said. ‘At times we are totally consumed by college and our own interests, but we should never forget about the world around us. I feel that it is our social responsibility to give back to our community, however it may be. A simple hour or two goes a long way with these children.’
More information can be found by calling (714)544-7773 or visiting the local BBBS website at http://www.bigbrooc.org.

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