Latinos Face Growing Need for Hispanic Mentors

In honor of Mentoring Month, we take a look at the experience of becoming an hermano or hermana to a child in need of guidance and encouragement.

Mentoring children into life successAs President of Big Brothers Big Sisters of Miami, Lydia Muniz stays busy overseeing the largest mentoring organization in Florida, but it was not until recently that she became a Big Sister herself.

A few years ago, the CEO became a Big Sister to a very inquisitive 9-year old; the BBBS president and her Little Sister, Izca, began to meet for library visits or chat about school over ice cream. Izca's mother, a newcomer to the US, was delighted. "Big Brothers Big Sisters is not there to replace her mother. [Hispanic] Single mothers may have limitations because of language and income. These may limit her capacity, not as a mother, but as someone who can offer opportunities and open the US to her children," says Muniz who finds herself enjoying a beautiful friendship with this young Latina, in addition to having helped Izca join a program for gifted students.

Helping one child at a time
With hundreds of thousands of Latino families with school-age children who are trying to adapt to a new language and culture, there's plenty of work for caring, bilingual adults who can help families by guiding their children. "It's like having a padrino or madrina," says Muniz. But, instead of giving money or material things to the child, the mentor gives of heart and mind.

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And it's this type of one-on-one mentoring (with the adult spending an average of 24 months with the child) that's at the core of one of the most successful children's programs in this country, according to BBBS Chief Diversity Officer, Hector Cortez. "Because of the [long-term] commitment, the 1:1 model changes lives. Children are more likely to stay in school and graduate. Mentoring helps the child avoid risky behavior by helping kids raise their self-esteem, feel confident, and reach their goals," says Cortez of the initiative, which is seeking adult male volunteers for its large waiting list of boys seeking mentors.

With the increase of the Hispanic population in the US, the need for bilingual volunteers, and especially for mentors, has grown exponentially. According to Cortez, BBBS serves over 200,000 children a year, of which over 20% are Hispanic. However, only 9% of the adult volunteers are Latino, and even fewer are male. "A volunteer is there to work with the family, not become [the child's] mom and dad. BBBS works, then, together with the family and the school to ensure success," says Cortez.

Mentors wanted
For those who'd like to get started on becoming a Big Brother or Big Sister, the process begins with a visit to LatinoBigs.org (for bilingual volunteers) or the national site, according to Cortez. "You don't have to have [previous] training or be a professional to become a mentor. All you'll need is about four hours per month for a year. We'll provide the orientation and training. Together we can surround the child with support."

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