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Big Brothers Big Sisters of Greater Pittsburgh plans initiative to help Brashear freshmen

| Saturday, July 19, 2014, 9:00 p.m.
Jack Fordyce | Tribune - Review
Umbray Glenn, 8, defends against Big Brother Adam White, 24, in a 'big vs. little' basketball game during the Big Brothers Big Sisters summer picnic Saturday, July 19 at Camp Guyasuta in Sharpsburg.

They've got a lot of littles, but need hundreds of bigs to help them out.

Big Brothers Big Sisters of Greater Pittsburgh, a nonprofit that links adult mentors with kids, has a waiting list of more than 212 disadvantaged children, mostly from single-parent homes in Allegheny, Washington and Greene counties, and the demand for adult volunteers is growing.

The group's Mentor 2.0 initiative, a program that pairs college-educated men and women with freshmen of the same gender at Brashear High School in Beechview, needs 120 adult volunteers to enlist before its rollout this autumn. Many students would be the first in their families to attend college or trade schools, and the nonprofit's leaders hope that positive adult role models will motivate the kids, both online and during face-to-face meetings.

“People worry that they don't have enough time, or think that because they don't have children of their own that the kids won't be able to relate to them. But when they spend time with the kids, that changes,” said Jan Glick, the chapter's chief executive officer. “It's a very rewarding experience for everyone.”

Surveys by the organization show that 67 percent of college students who had Big Brother Big Sister mentors credited the adult volunteers with their decisions to go to college. The longer kids are in the Big Brothers Big Sisters program, the less likely they are to do drugs and 90 percent of them improve their grades in school, according to the nonprofit's research. Founded 49 years ago, the Shadyside-based group serves more than 1,200 kids.

Recruiting adult mentors was the theme of the organization's “birthday party” at Sharpsburg's Camp Guyasuta on a drizzly Saturday. Anyone who referred a prospective volunteer won a prize, part of the group's drive to sign up 49 adults over the next 49 days to mentor kids. Requirements: Adults must be 21 and have a car but no criminal history. Everyone who volunteers is screened during an interview designed to match the mentor with just the right kid.

“We want to make sure it's a good fit,” said Glick of Point Breeze.

It is for Darrell White, 10, a student at John Morrow Elementary School in Brighton Heights. He's paired with Mike and Gillian Valore, a Hampton husband and wife “Big Couple” team. For the past two years, they've played putt-putt golf with Darrell and taken him to the Strip to sniff the spices, but those aren't the kid's favorite outings.

“We go to Pirate games!” said Darrell, a Little League third baseman known for his strong throws to first.

Mike Valore, 30, said that the time crunch wasn't bad — twice a month visits, sometimes more, but it's flexible. When asked who got more out of the trips, Gillian Valore, 29, said that “it's pretty rewarding for all of us.”

Darrell disagreed: “I do!”

Carl Prine is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-320-7826 or cprine@tribweb.com.

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