Sunday, January 31, 2016
Fox 5 Good Day New York - Street Talk
Antwan Lewis: They have bravely served our nation, and now veterans are being called to serve in a different kind of way, talking about mentoring today's youth. It's a program being launched by Big Brothers Big Sisters of New York City, and here to tell us all about it is marine veteran, Diego Romero. Good morning.
Diego Romero: Good morning.
Antwan Lewis: So how did this come about?
Diego Romero: January's National Mentoring Month, and it's really when we like to kick off our volunteer recruitment initiatives for the year. So we were brainstorming how we could get more volunteers to specifically address the need for more male mentors in our program. Just a few quick numbers, for every four referrals we get for children into our program, three of them are for boys. Right, so we’re getting 75% of calls for young men. On the volunteer side, the opposite is true. So for every four applicants we get for somebody signing up to become a Big Brother, Big Sister, only one of them is from a man. So we have this wait list of anywhere between 100-150 youth in our program, about 80% of them are boys. So we're always trying to connect with different organizations, find different ways to pipeline more men into the program. As a veteran myself, I thought, you know, who better to help address this than those who have served as really as ideal candidates for being role models in the community, and so we decided to see if we can connect with a few organizations to bring more veterans into our program.
Antwan Lewis: What's been the response from the veterans that you've been in touch with?
Diego Romero: So they're really excited about it, right? Veterans have a unique opportunity to really go through the full cycle relationship as, first, a mentee and a mentor in their experience in the service. So they come into their unit, they're fresh, they know just the basic skills, but somebody has to take them under or their wing, sort of show them the ropes, teach them the lay of the land, and by the time they leave, they're the ones doing that for the next generation of marine, soldiers, sailors. So they understand this idea of helping somebody who’s in a new situation, a new position, who might not know what they're doing or where they're going but can help them, ultimately, really fulfill their greatest potential.
Antwan Lewis: So now it differs slightly from a traditional mentor/mentee program in some capacity, right?
Diego Romero: So the volunteers that are coming in from active duty reserve service come in, again, with a little bit of a stronger understanding of what's exacted of them, right? And so where the actual program may not change, what is significant is their ability to really assess the needs of a child, and ultimately, help guide them, you know, through the leadership skills that they've gained through their service and being able to interact with all facets of the child's life.
Antwan Lewis: So now what specifically when you're looking for a veteran to join, what specific qualities may I ask, is that fair?
Diego Romero: Yeah.
Antwan Lewis: [What are you] looking for in the people that you're asking to become mentors?
Diego Romero: We're really just looking, and really, this is across the board, for people who understand that there are children who need just a little bit of support out there. Right? Maybe somebody who… we've all had mentors in our life, whether or not we realize it. We probably just didn't call them a mentor. It could have been a coach, a teacher, a neighbor, somebody who helped you through a difficult time. More often than not, veterans understand that. So being able to bring them into the program and really support the child with whatever it is they're going through is a great asset to the organization.
Antwan Lewis: So you still have about 80% of those that are boys that are looking for mentors. Is there a specific age range that you service?
Diego Romero: Sure. So we serve between 7-17. A majority of the children that are coming into our program that are getting referred to us are around middle school age.
Antwan Lewis: And as far as the veteran goes that you're looking for, is there a cutoff or an age there or having just finished active duty?
Diego Romero: So the minimum age for a volunteer is 21, our wheelhouse is really that 25-33-year-old demographic.
Antwan Lewis: Tell us about your web site that some of our veterans who are watching now who may have time and a heart, you know, to share. Should they want to get involved, what should they do?
Diego Romero: We’d love for them to check out our website, www.bigsnyc.org. b.i.g.s.n.y.c.org.
Antwan Lewis: Bigs?
Diego Romero: Yeah, Bigs, Big Brothers Big Sisters.
Antwan Lewis: [laughter] Okay, say it again, because I was laughing. Okay, so it’s www.
Diego Romero: .bigsnyc.org.
Antwan Lewis: Who came up with that? Bigs?
Diego Romero: That's been in place since I've joined the agency. It's a good way to, you know, for people to not have to remember a whole bunch of letters but just one word.
Antwan Lewis: Hopefully it's been working.
Diego Romero: Yes, we've actually just revamped our website and have a great uptick in traffic, so we're excited about everything that we've had on the web.
Antwan Lewis: Let's, first of all, talk about you for a little bit. Thank you for your service, you know? How long did you serve?
Diego Romero: It was my pleasure. I enlisted in 2004, and I got off active duty in 2010.
Antwan Lewis: How do you feel your experience, you know, translates into the mentor role with all that you saw and did?
Diego Romero: Even before my service, you know, i had always wanted a mentor, right? It was something that I felt like I would benefit from. But from the time i got to my first duty station, I really did have that mentor relationship. I had my seniors who really took me under their wing, helped guide me and really helped, you know, instill in me a lot of the core values that the marine corps has to offer. And I, in turn, was able to do that for the guys who came in after me. So this idea of mentorship was definitely not lost in my experience, and it really helped drive me to find an organization like Big Brothers Big Sisters to work for once my time of service ended.
Antwan Lewis: Diego Romero, thank you so much. We will get that website up there.
Diego Romero: I hope so. I appreciate it.
Antwan Lewis: We will, don't you worry.
Antwan Lewis: All right, to learn more about today's topics, go to Fox5ny.com, you can also like us on Facebook as well as follow us on twitter. And for all of us here on Fox 5, I'm Antwan Lewis. We'll see you next time for more "street talk," and as always, thanks for the company.