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Mentors help guide kids through life, school

Julie Lewis, left, and her “little sister,” Ladrian, were paired by Big Brothers Big Sisters when Ladrian was 13.
Julie Lewis, left, and her “little sister,” Ladrian, were paired by Big Brothers Big Sisters when Ladrian was 13. Courtesy of Big Brothers Big Sisters of the Triangle

After many months on a Big Brothers Big Sisters waiting list, the “big” day arrived. Ladrian Green was about to meet her big “sister,” Julie Lewis. “I wasn’t that enthusiastic,” Ladrian admits now. “It was my mom’s idea. She signed me up for it.”

Thirteen-year-olds are often contrarians when it comes to parental ideas. Ladrian was no different. “But then, I met Julie,” she said. “That changed everything.”

Ladrian lived in low-income housing in Durham. Her mother was unemployed, had no transportation, and could find very few options for programs that would appeal to Ladrian. She was having trouble at school – struggling academically and fighting every day.

“I’m not saying my mom wasn’t there for me. She was. It’s just she’s … you know … my mom,” said Ladrian.

When she was matched with Lewis, Ladrian was able to connect with a world outside of her high school experience and a source for help and advice.

Lewis describes it this way: “We faced numerous challenges together, challenges I never had to face as a child. Gangs and violence surrounded her. She called me numerous times saying someone was outside her house with a gun, or that someone had been shot, asking me for help.

“She was eventually shot at a community party designed to keep kids safe. (The injury was minor – a bullet hit her hand – but did require phsyical therapy.) When Ladrian was older, the other kids were going home to their families after school; she went to work, got off at midnight and took a 1-hour bus ride to get home.”

Lewis took her “little sister” movies, the ballet and museums. They talked, laughed, painted, cooked and everything in between during their six years together in the program. “It made a big difference in her life and it made just as big a difference in mine,” Lewis said. She now serves on the board of directors for Big Brothers Big Sisters of the Triangle.

Although affiliated with the Big Brothers Big Sisters national organization, the local group operates using only local funding. The agency depends on volunteers to give their time and energy to their “littles” (the children they are mentoring), using its financial resources to cover the costs of background checks for the adult mentors and the extensive case management once a match is made.

“They called my mom and me every week,” Ladrian said. “They wanted to keep in touch – to make sure that I always felt safe and wanted to keep going with the program. That was no problem. I’d spend the weekends with Julie and sometimes I just wanted to stay with her.”

Case managers keep in close contact with the adult mentor as well as the parent or guardian of the “littles” to ensure the children’s safety. If the mentors need help or advice in dealing with the problems facing the kids, they get support, too.

When the children turn 18, the agency drops out of the relationship, but bigs and littles can continue to be friends if they so choose. Ladrian, now 27, is a daycare provider and the mother of her own two children, age 7 and 3. They call Lewis “Aunt Ju-Ju.”

“We can’t get together as often now, but whenever we do, it’s like the first time,” says Ladrian, describing her friendship with Lewis and her family. “She’s a lovely and amazing person. When Julie’s son, Max, graduated (from UNC), we had a big party. We’re one big family.”

Big Brothers Big Sisters of the Triangle, headquartered in Morrisville, provides more than 800 children safe, caring adult mentors in Durham, Orange and Wake counties. The YMCA Big Brothers Big Sisters, serving the City of Raleigh and Wake County, became an affiliate agency of Big Brothers Big Sisters of America in 1999. In 2001, Big Brothers Big Sisters of Durham and Orange Counties became an affiliate agency. Then, in 2005, the two local affiliates reconfigured to form a single agency serving the Triangle – Big Brothers Big Sisters of the Triangle.

This year, the Triangle group has a $10,000 challenge grant from the Bob Barker Company, a Fuquay-Varina detention supply company.

With Lewis’ help, the group is launching a marketing effort to help the Triangle community better understand and support the program’s methods and results. With the support of loving friends and family, children do better in school and in life, the group has seen. Kids whose circumstances fall short on those building blocks just need a little help so they can soar.

The agency’s new tagline says it all: “Because Mentoring Changes Lives, For Good.”

Big Brothers Big Sisters of the Triangle

808 Aviation Parkway, Suite 900

Morrisville, N.C. 27560

www.bbbstriangle.org

Contact: John Mitterling, 919-850-9772

Description: The mission of Big Brothers Big Sisters of the Triangle is to provide children facing adversity with strong and enduring, professionally-supported, one-to-one relationships that will change their lives for the better, forever.

Volunteers needed: Mentors to serve as positive role models for at-risk youth. The time commitment is one to two hours of one-on-one time per week with a child aged 6-14.

Donations needed: Cash donations needed.

$10 would buy: A ticket to an event for “littles” to attend with their “bigs.”

$20 would buy: An activity and snack for a child participating in one STEM class.

$50 would buy: A climbing event for 3 “littles” at Triangle Rock Club.

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