CINCINNATI -- More than 400 kids in Greater Cincinnati are hoping that today will be the day they are matched with a mentor to help with math homework or take them to the playground.
With about 800 kids currently matched up to mentors, the Tri-State’s Big Brothers Big Sisters program is well over capacity, forcing those kids to sit and wait. Some kids will even age out of the system before they’re matched.
"It's heartbreaking to talk to a parent who is at their wits end, and they just want the best for their child,” said Chief Program Officer Donna Hermann-Vogel. “They're calling to try to get some help, and we have to say no.”
The program has been in Greater Cincinnati for 85 years, serving 11 counties. Price Hill, Avondale, Over-the-Rhine, Western Hills and Hyde Park have the greatest need for mentors. The highest need is men of color to volunteer.
Hermann-Vogel has had a little sister of her own — Kaydee — for the past 12 years.
"You go into it thinking you want to help a child. And then people at the end of a positive match will say, 'I had no idea it was going to affect me in such a way. I didn't know that I would get more out of it than I gave,’" Hermann-Vogel said.
Many people think they don’t have time for such a commitment between work, family and social commitments, but that’s just where The Matrix Companies CEO Brent Messmer found himself five years ago when he was matched with 8-year-old Kylan.
Messmer said his little brother just wanted to get out of the house and play. Over the past five years, Messmer said he’s seen unbelievable growth in Kylan, who went from a shy little kid at summer camp to playing on the football team and starring as King Triton in a version of The Little Mermaid.
"You have to be committed,” Messmer said. "These kids have had enough disappointments in their life that they don't need someone to sign-up and then not show up. So all you need to do is show up and care and it's a great experience for the kids, but I guarantee we the mentors come back just as happy, just as much growth as the kids. If you're passionate about kids, passionate about making a difference, I think you just pick up the phone and trust the process.”
There are two separate programs. The community-based program involves a few hours per week where mentors pick up the child, take them somewhere and spend time out in the community.
Site-based programs are still one-to-one mentoring relationships, but they take place at the child’s school or community center. They only take about 45 to 60 minutes per week at school programs.
If you’re interested in joining the program, you can apply at bigsforkids.org or call 513-421-4120.
Interested volunteers should expect at least a yearlong commitment because research shows a relationship less than six months long actually does more harm than good. Screening of volunteers takes about six weeks, involving criminal background checks, reference checks and interviews.