Called to be brothers, sistersEight years ago, Drew Yokota, a young man living in Durham, North Carolina, got a new “brother”: Sam, a troubled teen living nearby with his grandmother.
The two spent every Saturday together over the years, playing basketball and cooking dinners. They even went on vacation together.
The two strangers became like family through a youth mentoring community program called Big Brothers Big Sisters. The organization was founded in 1904 and has matched hundreds of at-risk youths and teens with responsible adults that can befriend and guide them to a better future.
Statistics prove the program has tangible benefits for the teens, including a lower risk of using illegal drugs, committing crimes and skipping school.
In the United States, there are several youth mentoring services through religious, school or community programs. Many started from concerns that youths experiencing poverty as children are more likely to become poor as adults, prone to crime and delinquency.
Usually housewives, business leaders and college students from middle-class families volunteer for the mentoring jobs, believing that their children will be happy if other children in their neighborhood are happy.
The mentoring differs from one-time social service or charity because it prioritizes a lasting relationship.
The concept is fairly new here in Korea, unlike in the United States, which has a century of experience. However, already some 13,000 people from 172 organizations are involved in mentoring and performing volunteer work for children in need in this country.
SK Telecom’s Sunny organization, which pairs college students with children in poor families for one-on-one relationships, and the Rainbow Tutoring Service, which comprises Daejeon’s public employees who help students in poor districts with their schoolwork, are model examples.
The government has now launched a council to build a human network and spread youth mentoring programs to a national level, hoping to find responsible mentors for each child in need.
All children should have an adult who offers love and care and helps to steer their lives in a better direction. And mentors can fill the role parents and teachers cannot for children in impoverished communities, helping them grow into wonderful adults themselves.
We hope there will be many among our population willing to become brothers, sisters, uncles and aunts to bring about great changes in the lives of children in need.