KENTON — Baylee Aldrich struggled with peer pressure three years ago when she was attending an alternative school. She needed someone in whom she could confide. She needed a role model.
Aldrich, of Kenton, attended Hardin Community School, for students who fell behind. The school provided counseling and accountability, in addition to educational services.
“I was dealing with peer pressure, and my counselor recommended me to become a part of the mentor program,” said Aldrich, now 18.
Aldrich was matched through the Big Brothers Big Sisters program with Kathleen Hilty, who heard about the opportunity through her church and became Aldrich’s “big” back in January 2016. They earned the Big Brother Big Sister of the Year award for West Central Ohio recently.
“She has come to holiday dinners at my house. We donate blood together, and she volunteers with me at my church,” Hilty said.
There is a shortage of people in the region to serve as mentors, called “bigs” in the program, said John Neville, Big Brothers Big Sisters of West Central Ohio executive director. There’s an abundance of “littles” waiting to be matched in West Central Ohio.
The organization recently surveyed teachers of 144 children in the programs in Allen, Hardin and Putnam counties. Those surveys disclosed a high percentage of students saw improvement. Seventy-one percent saw an improvement in self confidence, 64 percent with a sense of belonging to the school, 63 percent in class participation, 63 percent in relationships with peers and 51 percent in academic performance.
Shortage of mentors
There are currently 177 active matches in Allen County, 26 matches in Hardin County and 58 matches in Putnam County, totalling 261 matches in the group’s three-county area. Last year there were more than 500 matches with “bigs” coming and going after youths graduate out of the program when they turn 18.
There are 30 children ready to be matched in Allen County, 10 kids waiting to be matched in Hardin County and three people on hold in Putnam County.
After the bonding has taken place, the mentors are encouraged to help the child create a vision for life of something better than what’s known so far.
“You can be successful in school and make friends and avoid truancy, alcohol and drugs,” Neville said.
The mentor helps the child create a pathway to reach their healthy goals.
Male big, little
Oscar Williams, of Lima, has been a mentor to Logan Wilson, 12, for the past year and a half.
“I love this community and wanted to give back, and Big Brothers Big Sisters is the best way to do that,” Williams said.
He has two children of his own that Wilson has gotten to know.
Wilson was in fourth grade when he was matched. He was in the foster care system and was recommended for the program by his adoptive mother Jackie, a single mother.
Neville said there will never be enough mentors, and there is a special need for male mentors.
“I think men might think mentoring is a touchy-feely type of thing, but what it is is these male ‘littles’ need a male role model in their lives to show them how to work on a car, shoot a hoop or play sports,” Neville said.
In a lot of the homes where “littles” come from, there is not a male role model, and a single mother is the caregiver.
“These kids are coming to us with a variety of problems, where some of them come from very impoverished homes where there is a lot of alcohol and drug abuse in the home and single parents or grandparents raising the child,” Neville said.
Other challenges are children get behind in school or are in trouble with the juvenile justice system and lack social skills.
“School was difficult for me, and he became my mentor,” Wilson said. “We flew drones, went to the park to play basketball and most recently went to WAR Wrestling.”
Wilson said he learned from Williams about how to get his grades up and how to respect others.
Wilson has plans to join the military. Williams is employed at General Dynamics Land System, where he is an inspector for military tanks. Wilson had the opportunity to visit Williams’ work.
Williams said it has been rewarding to see Wilson grow and learn in a time when kids face challenges. Having someone steer them in the right direction is helpful.
Allen County resident Jim Weber has a unique perspective of being a “big” because he was once a “little” in the program. He has been a “big” for the past 17 years to three “littles,” most recently as a “big” to a 13-year-old he has mentored for the past three years.
“I was 13 when I got into the program and grew up without a father because he and my mom divorced when I was a toddler,” Weber said. His mother referred him to the program after seeing an advertisement on television.
He got matched with an older man named Hal Griffith, who took Weber out to eat, played board games and spent time with the boy with his wife. That’s where Weber learned about the importance of family.
“Looking back on it, he was like a father figure to me and taught me how to get a job and to be a good husband and father,” Weber said.
His “big” encouraged him to graduate high school, which he did. Weber then served in the military and went to college.
Now that Weber is a “big,” he passed down those things he learned from Griffith. He said he decided to become a “big” after he got married to give back to an organization that had such a large impact on him.
His little was having trouble in school with his grades, so Weber helped him with his schoolwork and told him good grades are important to be able to get a job later in life.
“The program was a major influence on me, and I wanted to give back to the community and a child,” Weber said. He has taken his matches to the Ohio State Fair, went on a helicopter ride and met Weber’s own children.
School-based mentor programs are offered in all three counties where “bigs” can come into the school either once a week or every other week to serve as a mentor for students.
In Putnam County, there are “littles” from Ottawa, Pandora and Ottoville elementary schools who meet at the area high schools and are matched with high school mentors. They meet once a week for an hour and a half from October through March for mentor activities.
Grace Williamson, a sophomore at Ottawa-Glandorf High School, was a “little” five years ago when she was recommended by her third grade teacher to be in the program. She now serves as a “big” mentor to a fourth-grader at Ottawa Elementary.
“I needed extra support because I had siblings who were disabled,” Williamson said.
She remembered doing board games and getting help with her homework from her “big.” She said the program is important because it encourages “bigs” to give back and make an impact on those “little” lives.
Back on track
Hilty taught Aldrich to drive using her vehicle so Aldrich could get her driver’s license. She shared with her “little” the importance of family by inviting her to family meals and activities.
“Since I have been a mentor to Baylee, I have gotten two other ‘littles,’ now 9 and 11, and Baylee has spent time mentoring them with me,” Hilty said.
Aldrich is on track to graduate from Ohio High Point Career Center in May and plans to attend Hocking College, majoring in animal therapy. She hopes to open her own dog grooming business one day, but for now she works at Wendy’s in Kenton.
“Kathleen understood my past but never judged me for any of it,” Aldrich said. “She has become like a best friend to me, and this program has helped me become mature,” Aldrich said.
Aldrich has plans to attend prom with her friends, so Hilty took her dress shopping and offered to pay for the dress.
“I think this is such an important program for children who have gotten off track. There is no such thing as a bad kid, and I love helping others,” Hilty said.
Reach Jennifer Peryam at 567-242-0362.