By Vickie Evans-Nash
Darlene Bell wants more brothers to step up to the plate, reach beyond themselves and their own families, and help a Black boy who needs a mentor. “People were just as busy 34 years ago,” she insists, “but yet they still did it. They did it because it was the right thing to do.”
Since July of last year, Bell has been the director of multicultural outreach for Big Brothers Big Sisters of the Greater Twin Cities after five years of general recruitment. As such, she recruits adult mentors for children of color: African American, African born, Latino, Hmong and Native American.
Her role was created when Big Brothers Big Sisters national saw the need to recruit more people of color. Currently there are hundreds of children awaiting mentors, and the majority of them are children color. To be more specific, they are boys — Black boys.
Children come to the program through their parents, schools, social workers, other kids, or just through word of mouth. The majority of them are from single-parent families. What they all have in common, says Bell, is a parent who is in effect saying, “My child needs somebody else to stand in the gap for them. I need help.”
In her efforts to get people of color to become mentors, Bell does not take a “do-as-I-say” approach. She leads by example.
“I was actually a Big Sister in our program before I was an employee. We call the adults ‘Big’ and we call the kids ‘Little.’ So my Little was 12 when we were matched. She just turned 17.”
Community mentoring through Big Brothers Big Sisters comes with a one-year commitment, and during that year a mentor meets with the child two to four times per month. “Me and my little sister have gotten together all the way from two or three hours to [times when] we’ve spent the whole day together,” Bell says.
School-based mentors commit to one hour a week. “One hour a week for you to show up and make a difference.”
Bell has always had a passion for helping children. She has been involved in volunteer efforts to help children and young adults for over 20 years in both her community and her church, so for her Big Brothers Big Sisters was an easy sell.
“It took one time for me. Someone one time said, ‘I’m a Big Sister. Would you even consider being a Big Sister?’ …I literally went to the website, looked it up, and then I attended a gala. So that was my introduction to getting up close and personal,” Bell says. She’s been a mentor ever since.
Bell says her own experiences growing up instilled in her the importance of giving back to her community. A couple in her neighborhood — both of them working and involved in their community and church — had three sons of their own, yet made time to offer Bell and her brother a safe place to eat and hang out while they were growing up.
Her parents also served as mentors. While growing up, she watched them provide housing and support for many of her cousins who moved to Minnesota from Alabama. When she became an adult, she felt that helping children was her calling.
“I thank God for those kinds of relationships. It’s sad that nowadays everybody’s schedules are so filled with everything else that they don’t reach back to help.”
Many times while recruiting, Bells says she will hear that people are just too busy, whether it’s with their own children or with their jobs. While there is a waiting list for both women and men volunteers, men pose the greatest challenge to recruitment. She says that for every man she recruits, she can recruit nine women.
The typical male response to her recruitment efforts is, “‘I’m not even in my own kid’s life,’ [or] ‘I’m helping to coach this team,’ One of the biggest: ‘I need a mentor my own self,’” Bell says.
To meet this challenge, Bell says that Big Brothers Big Sisters is currently focusing on the places men are more likely to go: barber shops or college campuses and universities. “We have something now called mentoringbrothers.org specifically trying to recruit the brothers to really step up to the plate.”
Currently, local news sources offer frequent stories of young Black males who have been the victims of homicide. Usually afterwards, Bell says, she is present for a well-attended home-going service for the victim.
“You look around and you see all of these Black men in church… But my question is, ‘Where were you three days ago? Where were you three months ago?’ but most importantly, ‘Where will you be tomorrow?’”
Bell counteracts any “too busy” excuses with her own schedule. While a Big Brother Big Sister mentor and besides her role as a recruiter, she is a mother of six and a grandmother of seven. She helps to care for her parents who are both in their 80s. She is a board member on three different boards and active in both her church and her community.
“I make the time to give back, because somebody made the time to give back to me.”
The magic number for Bell is 800: “If we just had 800 mentors to mentor our kids, that would be phenomenal…
“Some of our parents specifically [say,] ‘I want a Black man as a mentor for my son,’ or ‘I only want a Latino or Native American,’ but you know what holds them up on the waiting list? We don’t have them…because that pool is so low to draw from…
“What is wrong with our children having a mentor that looks like them?”
Bell also recommends volunteering for MAD DADS, Mentoring Partnerships of America, and Kinship. People can also help Big Brothers Big Sisters by referring them to their church or employer, by volunteering at their events or by donating money. For more information on Big Brothers Big Sisters of the Greater Twin Cities, contact them at 651-789-2400 or go to www.bigstwincities.org.
Vickie Evans-Nash welcomes reader response to email@example.com.