John Schwob is a local hero.
John, who describes himself as 67 going on 11, started volunteering for Big Brothers Big Sisters of Southwest Colorado about six years ago as a "study buddy." When he started, he was matched with a local middle school student. For about a year, the two met after school to do homework and play games. Things were going great for them both.
Then trouble hit. John's young "study buddy" got into some trouble. Rather than walking away, John decided to take a step further into the young man's life; the two became "big brother" and "little brother" in order to spend time together outside of school. With help from his wife, Aline, John began to provide a vital support system for his troubled young friend. This boy "really needed someone just then, and you can't abandon someone just because he's in trouble," John said. The relationship flourished, and I am happy to report that both John and his little brother are doing great today.
John was there for his little brother when that young man needed it most. That is why we at Big Brothers Big Sisters of Southwest Colorado consider Schwob a hero.
However, we know that he is just one example of the many people in our community who have dedicated themselves to helping youth. We wanted to take this opportunity to celebrate Schwob because January is National Mentoring Month. And we are happy to announce that for the first time ever, our national organization will honor one person as the "Big Citizen of the Year" in the United States.
This honor recognizes that helping children make good choices takes family members, teachers, religious leaders, coaches, neighbors and so many others who want to help our children grow up in America. The "Big Citizen of the Year" award is a way to illustrate that many people are making a positive difference in the lives of children.
I am sure each of you knows a person like Schwob who is truly making a difference for many kids. As a local agency, we know this community is filled with loving, dedicated adults who want to help.
Please take this opportunity to recognize and celebrate those people. We hope you will go to www.bigbrothersbigsisters.org and give a local unsung hero an opportunity to be recognized nationally. And invite your friends, family members and those on your e-mail lists to vote for him or her. The winner will receive recognition at Big Brothers Big Sisters' national conference in Miami and celebrate the honor at a private dinner with professional athletes and actors, philanthropists and business executives who support our work.
In addition to nominating someone, we hope you will also consider joining us in changing the way kids grow up in Southwest Colorado. The theme for National Mentoring Month is "Expand your universe: Mentor a child." The Harvard mentoring project of the Harvard School of Public Health, Mentor/National Mentoring Partnership and the Corporation for National and Community Service are spearheading this movement to encourage mentoring in America.
Research shows that young people who have a positive role model are more likely to succeed in school, solve problems without violent behavior, and avoid drugs and other illegal activities.
Generally, when I meet people and tell them I head the local Big Brothers Big Sisters agency, I hear: "I've always thought about being a big brother or big sister, but I'm way too busy." This is entirely valid. Particularly in a tough economy, your time is invaluable.
Fortunately, there are many ways to support Big Brothers Big Sisters of Southwest Colorado. We always need new big brothers, big sisters, big couples or study buddies. Our volunteers are business associates, corporate managers and executives, retirees, athletes, artists, young college graduates and more.
We also, however, need corporate partners, event volunteers, professional advisers, private donors and others willing to do what they can to provide support. It is a community movement of many diverse people who make it possible for our agency to help our young people.
With growing economic pressures on families and communities across America, the need for all citizens to join the movement is urgent. Children are facing risks that lead to soaring drop out rates, violence and crime.
John Schwob is making a difference, and so can you. Please nominate a local hero as Big Citizen of the Year; consider joining our program as a volunteer; or support us financially. In whichever way you choose, we hope you will join us as we change the way kids grow up in Southwest Colorado.
Christy M. Schaerer is the executive director of Big Brothers Big Sisters of Southwest Colorado. Reach her at 247-3720 or Christy@bbig.org.