Mentors can have a big impact on a young person’s life. The organizers of Big Brothers Big Sisters (BBBS) Southeastern Pennsylvania (SEPA) work to secure mentors for young children. Brian Willmarth (mentor) and Kahlim Mills (mentee) got paired up around three years ago and have built a bond they both significantly benefit from.
Willmarth and his wife moved to Philadelphia from Michigan with no family members around. Yearning to be involved with the community and to build a family-like bond, Willmarth learned of BBBS and began the interview process.
“I had some time to be involved and wanted to make an impact in my community,” Willmarth said. “At the interview I told Big Brothers Big Sisters all about me, and they found me a match.”
Willmarth and Mills get together about two or three times month and do a variety of activities. Over the course of their relationship they have gone fishing, ice-skating, kayaking, gone to the movies and played football and basketball together. Mills is now 13 years old, and Willmarth is proud of the bond they have maintained throughout the years.
“He is such a great kid, and I feel lucky to be matched up with him,” he said. “He’s so polite and respectful, and we really mesh well together.”
BBBS has formed mentoring matches between adults and children ages six through eight for more than 100 years. According to their 2010 Impact Report, they supported nearly 4,000 mentoring matches in 2010. The organization is working to secure more adults for mentorships and have been taking strides to do so.
Last Tuesday at the Hyatt at the Bellevue at 200 South Broad St., the Pennsylvania District Attorneys Association (PDAA), including District Attorney Seth Williams, joined Pennsylvania’s BBBS to announce a statewide partnership that would increase the number of mentors and positive role models to at-risk youth across the state.
Ted Qualli, president of Big Brothers Big Sisters State Association of PA, believes the organization’s main challenge is to recruit male mentors. The PDAA plans to work with local BBBS agencies to recruit more volunteers.
“There are thousands of kids on the waiting list across the state,” Qualli said. ”Quite frankly, a lot of our men may be afraid of the commitment.”
Willmarth believes the commitment is not hard to maintain — especially since the time spent with Mills is enjoyable.
Willmarth is Caucasian and Mills is African-American and they do not let their different racial identities affect their relationship or closeness.
“It’s not about race at all — we just have a good time together,” Willmarth said.
Mills’ mother, Belinda Mills, is so grateful for the program and believes her son has benefited greatly. Belinda was motivated to be involved with BBBS after the incarceration of her son’s father.
“I thought having a big brother would be beneficial to him,” Belinda said.”
I know that having a male in his life will help him to become the man he needs to be.”
Along with a positive male role model, Belinda believes the mentorship adds more diversity to her son’s life.
“I wanted a different nationality for him so he can see the other side — I wanted him to have both worlds, she said. “He looks beyond color — that’s how I raise my children.”
The Mills family keeps in tight communication with Willmarth and his wife. Willmarth now has a 10-month-old son and he views Mills as his son’s big brother.
Willmarth and Mills continue to build their relationship and the BBBS continues to recruit more mentors.
“The mentor gives the child someone to talk to and look up to as a role model,” Qualli said. “The volunteer mentors really model good behavior, and it helps the kids connect the dots between school and college and a future job.”