June means Dads and Grads for many in the Bay Area and throughout the country. For too many of the children in the Bay Area though, June is another month to struggle through the daily stresses they are experiencing as their families — often times a single mom trying to make ends meet — are fighting to keep their heads above the financial waters.
Many of these children have trouble imagining getting past a single day at school, let alone graduating. Many don’t have a father figure in their lives. Why should this matter? Because our children are our social capital, and we need to invest more deeply in them and in our future.
Children living in poverty are facing incredibly stressful and, in some cases, debilitating struggles. Stress is poisonous for adults; imagine how stress is impacting children. Every year that families and children live with the kind of stress that poverty is pushing down on them translates to even more problems in those children’s futures. Children who face the crushing stress of not knowing where they might be staying tonight, or whether or not someone in their family will decide to abuse someone else, or whether or not their “caregiver” will come home tonight are moving down a path where they will feel disengaged and disconnected as adults. We cannot standby and let this happen.
Instead of letting children face these stressors alone, we need to provide them with support. Children need to be supported in many ways, and one critical way in which they can be supported is through mentoring. While mentoring will not immediately provide children with a living income, or a home suitable to live in, or a neighborhood that is free of crime, it will provide them with exposure to different opportunities both within their communities and in other communities. And contrary to continued exposure to negative stressors, I would argue that mentoring is a glue that can provide a pathway to opportunity. Every year of exposure to different opportunities beyond a stressful existence translates to our children becoming engaged and feeling like a part of a community to which they want to contribute.
A picture of what mentoring offers can be seen in the story of Isaiah, a “Little” at Big Brothers Big Sisters of the Bay Area. Isaiah was born with drugs in his system due to his mother’s substance abuse and raised by an adoptive mother who did the best she could — despite the night shifts she worked and the rough neighborhood they called home — Isaiah was headed down a dark path. She realized she had to take action when she came home one day and found that young Isaiah was going out to the streets to play amongst the drug dealers who were stationed around his neighborhood.
“I didn’t have any resources,” his adoptive mother Venus says. “I had to get someone to participate in Isaiah’s life, a male figure.”
Things began to turn around when Isaiah was matched with his Big, Anye. They eased into low-pressure meetups, like catching up over a game of basketball, and stayed in touch, talking on the phone. Isaiah would even visit Anye at his office after school where they would work side by side at Anye’s desk, Isaiah catching up on his homework while Anye finished his workday.
“I think that’s good,” Anye says. “[Isaiah] can see somebody who maybe he thinks is cool that’s just doing work.”
With the help and support of his Big Brother Anye, Isaiah enrolled in a specialty school. The once-apathetic student now attends class from 7:30 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. and will be headed to college in the fall.
Isaiah knows Anye has played a large role in his transformation. “He inspires me to do well and practice when I’m not good at something,” he says of his Big Brother, “to work hard at everything I do.”
Don’t we owe all of our children the same opportunity that Isaiah now has because of his mentor Anye? Isaiah’s June is now about graduation and about opportunity beyond that, just the way it should be.
Dawn Kruger is chief executive officer of Big Brothers Big Sisters of the Bay Area