All you have to do is Google “Chicago Crime” and you’ll quickly see that my beloved city is in the middle of a violent crime epidemic. More than a month into 2017 and the City of Chicago has reported a staggering 60+ murders and 360+ shootings. In the calendar year of 2016 there were more than 4,360 shooting victims in the metropolitan area.
Instead of looking for people or systems to blame, I wanted to find my own personal way to make a difference. After some research, I found that Big Brothers & Big Sisters of Metropolitan Chicago would be the perfect fit.
Mentors are required to see their “Little” just two times a month, so it's not a massive time commitment and you can pick your schedule to suit your particular needs.
In August 2014 I became a “Match” for my Little Brother Dillon, an 11-year-old from the Austin Neighborhood on the Westside of Chicago. For those unfamiliar, Austin is one of the deadliest neighborhoods in the city.
Dillon has been raised by his wonderful mother Bertha and his grandmother Mary, and they were looking to BBBS for a male influence to help him learn and grow to experience his full potential.
As with any new relationship, there were the obvious growing pains. How can someone in their late-20’s possibly relate to an 11-year-old with a completely different background?
That’s where the beauty of BBBS starts to take shape. The program screens the parent, little/mentee and the big/mentor separately to ensure that all parties are committed to making the relationship succeed.
More than 30-months later I’m proud to say that Dillon and I are still matched and have experienced quite a bit together. Our activities range from courtside seats at a Chicago Bulls game, to cooking classes, to shooting hoops in the park or just having dinner at LongHorn Steakhouse (Dillon’s favorite restaurant).
While our relationship started as a way for us to have fun together, we’ve expanded our mission to teach Dillon about business. Dillon started his own T-shirt Company called Operation S.P.Y. (Smart Powerful Youth) and an eBay store called D&B Boutique.
To date, Dillon has generated nearly $1,000 in revenue, reinvesting a portion into D&B Boutique, starting a college fund and of course, buying himself some Legos. Dillon also received a $500 grant from BBBS to purchase a Laptop and Art Pad for his budding t-shirt business.
Why am I sharing this story? I believe that we all have a duty to help the individuals that want to succeed. Every BBBS program in America is facing a shortage of male volunteers and signing up to become a “Big” can change the trajectory of an individual’s entire life.
To know that I’m now a pivotal part of Dillon’s support structure that will keep him on track to graduate and go to college is unbelievably rewarding. It may seem like a small difference, but that is how real, lasting and effective change happens.
So next time you see a news story about the crime crippling our inner-cities, I invite you to seriously consider being the change that someone needs. In a time of political discord and uncertainty, it's been reassuring to realize that my small efforts still count in a big way.
To learn more about Big Brothers Big Sisters of America, visit their site here and see how you can get involved in your community.