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New program recruits students

Volunteers mentor youths, get involved in community

by Sally Claunch
The Shorthorn staff

Matt Swain helps 13-year-old T.J. Harp improve his grades and his future.

T.J. doesn't know his father, and Swain said he enjoys being a male role model in the boy's life.

"I tell him that school comes first," said the organizational communication senior. "I get onto him about his grades and now he's putting more effort into it."

Swain is one of many students who are mentors for children through the Campus Pals program, sponsored by Big Brothers Big Sisters serving Arlington and Mansfield.

The organization's representatives held a mixer for UTA and Tarrant County College students Monday. The event's purpose was to recruit volunteers to participate in First Mentors, a new program similar to Campus Pals that allows college students to mentor youth without the one-year-commitment required to be a Big Brother or Big Sister.

First Mentors is a partnership between Big Brothers Big Sisters and First USA. The program also allows college students to get involved by being a mentor for children and it exposes the children to college life.

Volunteer coordinator Chian Wright said that many college students want to give back to society but have limited time to volunteer. She said the First Mentors program is flexible so students can mentor a child and still have time for studying and classes. Students must meet with the children at least two times a month.

"We want someone to basically be their friend-not a babysitter," she said.

She said the Campus Pals program, which was for athletes, was so successful that the organization decided to open up mentoring for every student because the need for mentors is so acute.

"I would get calls from students who wanted to participate because the word of mouth at UTA was that it was a very good program," she said.

Currently, Big Brothers Big Sisters has more than 140 children on the waiting list for mentors in the area, she said. Most of the children will be on that waiting list for about a year.

"Many of the children are already in detrimental situations," she said. "They want help, and their parents want them to get help and then they just sit on a waiting list," she said.

Wright said the organization tries to meet the needs of the kids and mentors.

"Some mentors may want to work with children who are at risk, while others may not," she said.

Children in the program are 7 to 14 years old and are from single-parent families.

Undeclared freshman Centra Robinson went to the mixer because she wanted a mentor when she was a child but did not have one.

"I will help them in their college decisions because a lot of them probably don't want to go to college," she said. "When they see me, they'll know they can do it."

For more information on becoming a mentor, call Big Brothers Big Sisters at (817) 277-1148.

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