Need for Mentors in the Central Valley

August 5, 2009 12:00:00 AM PDT
Big Brothers, Big Sisters of Central California has seen a decline in volunteers this summer. But a new study shows how a mentor can make changes in a child that can last a lifetime.Elisa Diel and Ashley Johnson could pass as sisters, but they've only known each other for 3 years. They were matched together at Big Brothers, Big Sisters of Central California. "You can look up to her. If you need something, she's there," said Little Sister Ashley Johnson.

Ashley was approaching her 12th birthday when she first met Elisa. Her sisters had their own big sisters and her grandma encouraged Ashley to find a big of her own.

Their first outing was a trip to the bowling alley three years ago.

Elisa was a graduate student at Fresno State when she decided to become a big sister. She dedicates at least four hours a week to Ashley. "This might sound dumb, but I love running errands with her. She's like my little wing man," said Big Sister Elisa Diel.

The benefits for the little brothers and sisters like Ashley are impressive even in the short term. "On a short term level, the kids are less likely to begin using drugs and alcohol, they are more likely to do better in school and do better with classroom participation. They are more likely to improve family relationships as well as relationships with their peers, which then leads to less risky behaviors," said Brooke Frost with Big Bothers, Big Sisters of Central California.

Ashley has seen a big boost in her grades since she started spending time with Elisa. The 15-year-old will be a sophomore at Duncan Polytechnical High School where students get to choose a subject to focus on. And taking a cue from Elisa's nursing career, Ashley is majoring in health. "In middle school I was getting pretty bad grades and then in 8th and 9th grade I got a lot better grades... Like a 3.0 now."

An online survey by Harris Interactive this year shows the benefits of having a mentor can last through adulthood. It shows Big Brothers Big Sisters alumni have strong relationships with their spouses, children and friends. 75% are more likely to get a four year college degree and 39% more likely to have a household income of $75,000 dollars or more when compared to their peers with similar backgrounds but not involved in the program.

But finding mentors for everyone is difficult, especially for boys.

For every male volunteer, there are 7 boys waiting. "You could fill the Fresno Save Mart Center ten times to the rafters. With the number of kids who could potentially benefit from a mentor, here in the Central Valley that we serve from Madera down to Kern," said Frost.

Ashley and Elisa find many ways to stay in touch throughout the week whether in person, by email, phone or even texting. It's a relationship that's turned out to be much more than they thought when they first met 3-years ago. "I feel like I got a best friend with her. I've gotten a real sister. You know, I feel like she's my real little sister. And she's just an amazing person. And I think it benefits me more than it benefits you," said Diel.

To learn more about the importance of mentoring a child, you can watch our half hour Children First special, Role Models. It airs this Sunday at 6:30, right after Action News at Six.

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