Cheryl BurkeFrom the excitement of schoolchildren waiting for their “biggie” to join them for lunch to the long-term effect of a mentor following a child from elementary school through college, Chimborazo Elementary School Principal Cheryl L. Burke says mentorship through Big Brothers Big Sisters of Greater Richmond & Tri-Cities has been beneficial for her students.

With a larger-than-normal waiting list for mentors, the organization is pleading for matches for more than 200 children.

Of the 210 waiting children, two-thirds are boys but only one-fourth of the available volunteers are men, executive director Ann Rohde Payes said.

Last school year about 650 children cycled through the program with 400 active mentors. Men often misunderstand the program’s mission and don’t sign up, Payes said.

“It’s about being a friend but also about helping kids achieve goals,” Payes said. “It’s not necessarily about hugs and going out and getting ice cream.”

The waiting list has surpassed 100 children consistently for the past four years, but as the organization increases its reach and success, more parents call to sign up their children, she said.

“Right now it’s pretty intense,” Payes said.

The Richmond chapter has launched targeted mentor recruitment for children in the East End by reaching out to business owners, downtown workers and government employees.

The local nonprofit, part of the national organization that traces its history to 1904 in New York City, operates in four Richmond schools and three Henrico County schools, and has ties to elementary and high schools in Petersburg and Hopewell.

Burke said there are few other ways children can get one-on-one attention for four to nine hours a month. Classrooms, sport teams and even multiple-child families do not give children as much individual attention as mentors, she said.

When Chimborazo started its program 11 years ago, it was the first city school for the local Big Brothers Big Sisters.

Burke, who has been principal for 17 years, said attendance and performance at the East End school are better among mentored children.

“We know they are going to come into school the day their biggie is coming in,” to take a walk in the school’s garden, play basketball or come to lunch, she said. “I’ve been able to see the difference.”

Matches are based on the child’s level of need and waiting list time, shared interests with a mentor, and location. The organization typically sticks to within a 15-minute or 15-mile distance between mentor and mentee to increase the likelihood of consistent contact and relationship building.

Potential mentors must be 18 or older and go through rigorous state and federal background checks. The organization prefers that they have a car. Applicants must also supply references.

The school-based programs require one hour per week, and the community-based mentorships require nine hours per month.

Big Brothers Big Sisters of Greater Richmond & Tri-Cities will host two “Big for a Day” events to acquaint potential mentors with children on the waiting list, from 12 to 2 p.m. Saturday at the Peter Paul Development Center, 1708 N. 22nd St., and at 11:30 a.m. Jan. 29 at George Mason Elementary School, 813 N. 28th St.

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