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Students mentor children

Gene Noone | Thursday, November 29, 2007

Senior Alex Melecki has been busy studying like many Notre Dame students – but his study partner is a fifth grader and the subject is spelling.

Melecki is president of the Big Brothers/Big Sisters program of Notre Dame and is one of nearly 100 Notre Dame students who spend time every week mentoring children in St. Joseph County.

The program is recruiting new volunteers, especially males, Melecki said.

“My work with Big Brothers/Big Sisters has been the most rewarding thing I have done during my time here at Notre Dame,” he said.

The Notre Dame Big Brothers/Big Sisters program works closely with the St. Joseph County branch of the Big Brothers/Big Sisters organization, which began in 1969.

The mission of the Big Brothers/Big Sisters organization, according to its Web site, is to provide children who lack sufficient adult support with the opportunity and skills necessary to develop positive personal growth.

“A lot of young people today do not get much of an opportunity to be friends with adults, especially ones who are going listen to them and act as a positive role model,” said senior Devin Easter, vice president for the Big Brothers/Big Sisters of Notre Dame.

Statistics show that the Big Brothers/Big Sisters program makes a difference. Little Brothers and Sisters were 52 percent less likely to skip a day of school, 46 percent less likely to start using drugs, 27 percent less likely to start drinking and 33 percent less likely to hit someone, according to the organization’s Web site. Also, they are generally more trusting of their parents or guardians.

Through the program, students are matched with children ages 6-16, often from single-parent homes or other living situations in which they would be in need of an additional positive role model, Melecki said.

The St. Joseph organization offers two ways for Notre Dame members to volunteer: the Community Mentor Program or the School Mentor Program.

“The Community Mentor Program is what people generally associate with the Big Brothers/Big Sisters program,” Melecki said. “Community Mentors meet with their ‘Littles’ once every week or two on their own time for a few hours.”

The time Bigs and Littles spend in the Community Mentor Program does not require a special occasion or expensive activities.

Junior Patrick Sweeney, who participates in the Community Mentor Program, said he and his Little will either grab a bite to eat or play basketball or pool.

“We have plans to check out the College Football Hall of Fame soon,” he said.

The School Mentor Program requires participants to go directly to their Little’s school where they help the student with their homework. Six area schools and youth centers participate in the program.

“[The School Mentor Program] is better for volunteers who don’t have cars, because carpooling to schools is possible,” Melecki said.

While time commitment is often a concern for potential volunteers, Melecki said, the program does not set specific hours for volunteers.

“The best part is that as a Big Brother or Big Sister you can set your own schedule, working directly with your Little’s caretakers to find times that work for both of you,” he said.

Melecki said the program tries to match college students and children with similar interests.

“The St. Joseph organization goes to great lengths to make sure that you and your little share interests and personality types,” he said. “Whether you’re a sports nut or a chess grandmaster, the program will work to find a child whom you will be able to relate.”

All students are eligible to participate in the program; however, they must be able to commit at least one year. Applications are available at the Center for Social Concerns.