Born in South Korea to a Korean woman and an African American man, Michael Goar was placed in an orphanage where he was unable to mingle with the Korean children due to his mixed race. At age 12, Goar was adopted by a Caucasian couple in South Minneapolis and attended Anthony Middle School and Washburn High School.
Goar has since dedicated his life to helping children, currently as chief executive officer of Big Brothers Big Sisters (BBBS), now in its 97th year of operation. Under the belief that “God has a plan for all of us,” he considers every child to be “one caring adult away from becoming a positive story.”
Historically, Big Brothers Big Sisters has been a mentor program for youth ages eight-12 years old of all ethnicities. In 2016 the program mentored 2,396 youth, 74 percent of whom came from female single-parent households with 49 percent of African American decent.
The mentoring provided by Big Brothers Big Sisters is a social-emotional relationship. Goar emphasized, “We focus on what does it mean to be a young adult; what are the things you need to know in terms of executive functions; how are you making sure you make the right decisions.”
The average high-school graduation rate of African Americans across the United States is 73 percent, while here in Minnesota the rate is 60 percent. Serving the Greater Twin Cities, Big Brothers Big Sisters has teamed with the Medtronic Foundation in an effort to raise the high-school graduation rates. Within two years of Goar as CEO at BBBS, the organization is entering a new phase this month with the Medtronic Foundation partnership.
Given a four-year grant from the Medtronic Foundation, BBBS is matching Medtronic volunteer employees with teenagers entering North Community High School in North Minneapolis as freshmen. BBBS is hoping that the students will be able to visit Medtronic Foundation and see some of the work employees do, encouraging students to continue on to college.
In its first year of the four-year grant, coinciding with the typical four years of high-school, BBBS received approximately $92,000. Through the new one-on-one matches, Medtronic Foundation is offering 24 volunteer employees starting this month.
Goar said, “Part of the challenge given by Medtronic is the ability to create a social-emotional learning curriculum in conjunction with Minneapolis Public Schools.” Social-emotional learning objectives include making good decisions that are beneficial in the long term, staying away from bad influences, and dealing effectively with stress.
Minnesota is ranked last among the 50 states for Hispanic kids graduating from high school. For African Americans the rating gets better, but not by much — it’s the 47th state in Black high school graduations. Big Brothers Big Sisters’ data show that their students’ graduation rates are higher due to kids receiving a mentor. According to the BBBS website, 84 percent of youth paired with a mentor during or before their freshman year and still matched at the beginning of their senior year graduated from high school.
Currently, BBBS has a large number of kids who are without a volunteer mentor. All kids are referred to the program through schools, parents, or county social services. Goar said, “Imagine the opportunity if we gave kids a fair chance. Our core mission is providing our community members with caring adults who are genuinely there to volunteer their time.”
One of the new additions in programming started two years ago is that if students were part of BBBS as kids and no longer have BBBS help, they can get reacquainted as adults and receive help through college scholarship funds up to age 24. With this program addition, the goal is to start with kids at age eight with their volunteer mentor assisting them through high school and college, creating a lifelong mentorship.
College career program assistance can include the application process, signing up for classes, tutoring help, and class attendance support as well as financial aid. Former BBBS students who need assistance are encouraged to return if they have a need for such help.
“Kids are our precious commodities. We’ve created a full ecosystem because we want to bring them back to become a mentor for other youth,” said Goar. BBBS asks for at minimum a 12-month commitment from its volunteers, with the average being 36 months.
BBBS tracks its volunteers to make sure the match is sustained throughout the years and checks in weekly with kids and their families to make improvements in the mentoring of youth, consider what might be done differently, and address any difficulties with mentor relationships.
BBBS provides free support activities for kids and mentors to attend together such as Minnesota Gopher football games, helping them build a trusting relationship. BBBS likes to make it clear to volunteers that “this isn’t a one-way street. You’re not just doing kids a favor. They’re doing you a favor, too. Let’s be clear — you’re benefiting, too,” said Goar.
A cardboard cutout of Minnesota Vikings football player Harrison Smith sits at the BBBS office. This program donation pledge is called Big Tackles. “Every game, every tackle, [means more help] for every little brother and little sister,” says Smith in a promotional flyer. “Together, we can make a real difference in the lives of our community’s kids.”
To join in the tackling pledge, visit www.bigtackles.org.
All data provided in this article came from the Big Brothers Big Sisters website at www.bigstwincities.org. This story is made possible by a grant from the Medtronic Foundation.
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Jonika Stowes is a contributing writer at the Minnesota Spokesman-Recorder. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.