Pittsburgh-area Big Brothers program short on male mentors
Not long after Mark Bezilla became a mentor with Big Brothers Big Sisters of Greater Pittsburgh, his “little brother” asked him to attend a “Take your father to school” event.
“All the kids started asking, ‘Are you Eric's dad?' ” said Bezilla, 28, of Mt. Washington, joking that he and Eric, 10, look nothing like each other. “It certainly means the world to me that he would ask me to participate in that activity. We're basically like buddies, but I'm also more of a parental figure, as opposed to just friends.”
Bezilla, who joined the program three years ago, sees Eric twice a month. The unlikely pair has grown so close that Bezilla asked Eric to be a groomsman in his wedding in August.
Not all the boys in the program are as fortunate as Eric, as the Big Brothers Big Sisters chapter is dealing with a significant shortage of male volunteers.
The nonprofit organization has a waiting list of nearly 90 boys, said CEO Jan Glick.
It is typically easy to find female volunteers for the program, which matches mentors to children ages 6 to 13.
“We all know how busy we are today, pulled in a lot of different directions with work and family and everything else, but the biggest gift that somebody can give is the gift of their time,” Glick said.
The time commitment varies, but Glick said “big brothers” are asked to see their “little brothers” at least twice a month for three to five hours at a time. Big brothers do everything from taking youngsters to sporting events to simply hanging out while tossing a football or helping with a school project.
“It's not about being Disney daddy,” Glick said. “It's not about taking them to Kennywood and then to Sandcastle and then to here, there and everywhere. It's about the relationship and building the relationship and spending that one-on-one time together.”
The youngsters typically are from low-income, single-parent families in which they lack a strong male figure. Some are being raised by grandparents, and some have a parent who is incarcerated.
To make sure a match works, the organization's staff interviews prospective volunteers and conducts background checks that include any criminal charges. Most matches are successful, and some lead to lifetime relationships.
“The longer the match is together, the longer the impact that can be seen on the child,” said Cheryl Jones, the local organization's director of quality assurance and special services.
Bezilla, a Penn State University graduate who likes sports and the outdoors, said he and Eric enjoy going to sporting events. Bezilla talks frequently to Eric's mother and aunt to stay informed about his academic work and school activities.
“When they need me to make sure that I reiterate a point or value, I'm happy to play that role,” said Bezilla, who is an assistant vice president for community affairs at PNC, Downtown.
“At the end of the day, I'm not a friend — I'm a mentor,” he said. “I need to give him feedback, whether he likes it or not.”
Luis Fábregas is a Trib Total Media staff writer.
Show commenting policy
TribLive commenting policy
You are solely responsible for your comments and by using TribLive.com you agree to our Terms of Service.
We moderate comments. Our goal is to provide substantive commentary for a general readership. By screening submissions, we provide a space where readers can share intelligent and informed commentary that enhances the quality of our news and information.
While most comments will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive, moderating decisions are subjective. We will make them as carefully and consistently as we can. Because of the volume of reader comments, we cannot review individual moderation decisions with readers.
We value thoughtful comments representing a range of views that make their point quickly and politely. We make an effort to protect discussions from repeated comments either by the same reader or different readers.
We follow the same standards for taste as the daily newspaper. A few things we won't tolerate: personal attacks, obscenity, vulgarity, profanity (including expletives and letters followed by dashes), commercial promotion, impersonations, incoherence, proselytizing and SHOUTING. Don't include URLs to Web sites.
We do not edit comments. They are either approved or deleted. We reserve the right to edit a comment that is quoted or excerpted in an article. In this case, we may fix spelling and punctuation.
We welcome strong opinions and criticism of our work, but we don't want comments to become bogged down with discussions of our policies and we will moderate accordingly.
We appreciate it when readers and people quoted in articles or blog posts point out errors of fact or emphasis and will investigate all assertions. But these suggestions should be sent via e-mail. To avoid distracting other readers, we won't publish comments that suggest a correction. Instead, corrections will be made in a blog post or in an article.
- Millions in pollution fines went unused for decades in Allegheny County
- Newsmaker: Christine Pease-Hernandez
- No federal funds to help enforce Pa. ban on texting by drivers
- Lower gas prices entice motorists to drive long distances for Thanksgiving
- U.S. Steel to relocate corporate headquarters on former Civic Arena site
- U.S. Steel Tower tenants stand to benefit from company’s relocation
- Group’s proposed fracking moratorium for Allegheny County parks to go on council agenda