MENTOR: The National Mentoring Partnership
August 20th, 2014
Posted In: The Mentoring Effect
When speaking to St. Cloud, Minnesota Police Chief Wm. Blair Anderson, it’s obvious he can’t mention enough how the Bigs in Blue initiative, facilitated by Big Brothers Big Sisters of Central Minnesota (BBBS of Central Minnesota), has impacted the police force and the local community. The program, celebrating its second year, allows on-duty St. Cloud officers to visit area schools in uniform three to four times a month to mentor youth ages 5-15 who are facing adversity.
When presented with the idea of the Bigs in Blue initiative from a fellow officer, Chief Anderson jumped at the chance to engage officers in youth mentoring. Having long-encouraged his officers to become involved in community work, this appeared to be a perfect fit.
“Big in Blue is one of several programs that fit under our youth initiatives umbrella. Growing up in a tough town myself, but having a place to go, having an after-school program, having an outlet like that [was] invaluable,” says Chief Anderson … “[We should] remember at the end of the day, someone did it for me, so we’re just paying it forward.”
Ann Matvick, program director for BBBS of Central Minnesota adds that Bigs in Blue allows the officers to foster positive relationships with local youth and families while simultaneously encouraging increased understanding of the challenges at-risk youth face. Ultimately, this connection and understanding strengthens the broader relationship the police department has with the community.
“Parents who have been working with the officers currently matched with their children have been very appreciative,” says Matvick. “Not only does their child have a positive and consistent male in their lives, but their child is being taught a great deal of respect for the law.”
The Mentoring Effect report published by MENTOR in January 2014 found that students who were at-risk for not graduating but who had a mentor were 36% more likely to aspire to enroll in and graduate from college. Knowing that young people who have previously experienced the juvenile justice environment have a greater likelihood of dropping out of school, Chief Anderson agrees that keeping kids connected to academics and learning activities, is a priority.
“I know early and sustained intervention is proven to keep kids who would otherwise head down the wrong path on the straight and narrow,” said Chief Anderson. “We get a unique opportunity in Minnesota because you have to have a degree to be an officer. And when kids tell us, “Hey, I want to be a police officer too,” we remind them, you need a degree and that transitions to the importance of education.”
Since the program’s inauguration, the community has provided their full support and Bigs in Blue will soon be expanding to neighboring school districts.
“The officers involved each agree to a one-year commitment but many are looking at this as a long-term investment in their mentee,” said Chief Anderson. “Kids can just see a uniform sometimes, but we want to [them] to see us as people. Now we have youth in other school districts waiting to be matched and would like to provide them with the same opportunity.”
Matvick adds that several new mentors have cited their reason for becoming mentors through BBBS of Central Minnesota is because of the inspiring work of the Bigs in Blue officers. She sees this program as becoming bigger than anyone ever imagined.
“Once parents and guardians heard about this initiative they have been contacting us asking to get their child involved,” says Matvick “We‘ve also had many human service professionals contacting us wanting to refer a child. We have had a great response from the community. ”
To use Chief Anderson’s poignant words, soon many more officers will be “paying it forward” by mentoring youth and helping them stay on the path to a bright future.