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Big Brothers Big Sisters keep man on right side of track
By Natasha Gibbins, Special to the Leader
The nonprofit mentoring organization Big Brothers Big Sisters celebrates yet another successful story as Keith Hopkins, a former “Little,” describes how the program kept him focused in life.
Hopkins looks like an ordinary 48-year-old man, but his extraordinary childhood stands him apart from others. With guidance and help from a volunteer, Hopkins was able to stay on the straight and narrow and lead a positive and confident life.
Big Brothers Big Sisters is a national mentoring organization supported by donors, volunteers, partners and advocates offering at risk youths the chance to build a lifelong relationship with a matched adult. The volunteers go through a rigorous application process, including a detailed form with three references, a criminal background check and an interview to ensure that the adult is suitable for the role as a sponsor.
Heather Morrow, a match support specialist at Big Brothers Big Sisters said, “When interviewing a “Big,” we try to look for people who have a genuine interest in taking time to develop a close friendship and give support to a child/teen who has the need for a one-on-one relationship with an adult in their life. The ability to be consistent, responsible, communicate, and have the availability in their schedule are some of the characteristics that are a must.”
When Hopkins was 8, a man showed up on his doorstep introducing himself as ‘Laural Heath’ and said he was there to meet Keith and his older brother Kenneth. At the beginning, Hopkins was suspicious towards this new ‘strange’ man who wanted to spend time with them. He said, “When I first met him (Heath) it took me a while to adapt to the situation because I’m quite a cautious person. What got me accustomed to him quickly was that he would take us onto his college campus to spend time there and go to parties.”
Heath was a local mid-20s college student studying at Park Community College in Kansas City, Kansas and lived with his girlfriend, Margie at the time. Margie soon became a second Big, spending much time together with Hopkins and Heath, taking part in activities such as camping, bowling, visiting museums and festivals, seeing movies and flying kites.
Hopkins said, “My favorite thing about being a Little was getting out and experiencing new things because where I grew up, the transportation was not very good.”
Hopkins grew up in a single parent family in the inner city of Kansas City. He was the middle child of seven brothers and sisters, which meant money was stretched and much-needed quality time with his mother was limited. His location also brought its own problems, as he was surrounded by troubled children and teenagers who were turning to crime to fuel their boredom.
Hopkins and Heath’s friendship developed, and eventually Heath became a sponsor to only Keith, although Kenneth liked to join them both when they went to particular events.
Hopkins and Heath finished their mentoring program together when Hopkins was 15 years old, however Heath kept in touch, phoning and popping by occasionally to ensure Hopkins was still studying and making good grades at school. Heath would also spend the time to go watch Hopkins play in his school football and basketball team at local games.
The role of a sponsor involves a great deal more than taking the youth to events and activities according to BBBS. The mentor becomes a listening ear away from the parental home, and helps guide them through their childhood. In a recent survey by the organization, 83 percent of former Littles agreed that their Big had “instilled values and principles that have guided them through life.”
Dick Rogers, a psychology professor and Big for Big Brothers Big Sisters Denton County, has been a mentor for his Little for six years. Rogers said, “The best thing about being a mentor is the big picture, seeing how it evolves. For example, when I first met my Little, he was acting out and now he is quizzing me about chemistry.”
After Hopkins had finished high school, he went on to join the ranks of the US Army at the age of eighteen as a canon crew member in combat arms, field artillery. He continued to work for the military, serving the United States of America and its citizens for 20 years, eventually leaving as a training non-commissioned officer in 1992 at the age of 38.
Hopkins continued his remarkable journey by becoming a juvenile supervisory officer, which was a difficult role, involving a combination of strict law enforcement and social work. His difficult upbringing and loyal Big Brothers Big Sisters sponsor were a big influence on him deciding on this particular career choice later in his life.
Hopkins relocated to Denton when he left the army, and is still working as a juvenile supervisory officer as well as a private security officer today. He takes any opportunity he can to recommend the Big Brothers Big Sisters program to the juveniles he manages, as he feels it is a resource that is readily available and would benefit these youths in particular.
Hopkins is also considering becoming a Big himself, as his two children have grown up, with one in college and the other working full time.
The current issue that Big Brothers Big Sisters is experiencing is a need for more Bigs, particularly in Denton County. This branch serves 500-600 Bigs and Littles annually, with the waiting list for youths to be matched increasing constantly.
Janemarie Clark, regional executive director for Big Brothers Big Sisters Denton County, explains the urgent need for more Bigs in this area, “We know that about 80,000 children in the Denton are at risk for school failure due mainly to their family circumstances, so serving 600 of them doesn’t feel like enough. We would like to serve 1000 youth per year, but we know that it will take a few years to reach that goal.”
Clark knows the importance of mentoring as she is a sponsor herself and said, “I currently have a Little Sister in the BBBS program. Her name is LaDaysha, and she is in fourth grade. We have a lot of fun together. She wants to be a pop star like Rhianna one day, but I’m trying to get her to be Rhianna with a college degree.
“I am also a mentor in other aspects of my life. My two children are in college now, so my role is less of a parent and more of an encourager and a springboard for ideas. That’s what mentoring is all about. I enjoy helping others reach their goals. I enjoy coaching my staff and others as they develop skills and challenge the imagined barriers to their success.”
There are clearly many benefits to having a mentor, such as experiencing new activities, meeting new people and improving social and personal skills. Hopkins described the main way being mentored helped him was that he was able to deal with adversity. “If I had not taken part in the program I felt I would have been ‘stuck on stupid’” he said. “This is a phrase I use which means that I would not have had the chance to get out of the environment that I lived in, and see what else is out there in the world. It also taught me how to deal with people.”
With Morrow’s particular role at Big Brothers Big Sisters, she has witnessed many ways in which sponsors have helped their Littles, and said, “I’ve had Littles learn life skills their parents may not been able to provide due to being a single parent. For example, I have matches who go over how to maintain finances, practice social skills in different environments, table etiquette when fine dining, getting ready for college and exploring career options.”
Morrow also explained how mentoring can have a positive emotional outcome, “I’ve also seen Littles from busy two parent homes benefit from having an adult friend outside of the home they can build a bond with and trust enough to talk to about important issues,” she said. “The list could go on… I have consistently seen our Littles improve in self-confidence and have a more positive outlook on their future, which effects how they are as students, children, and members of society.”
To learn more about the nonprofit organization Big Brother Big Sisters, visit their website at www.bbbs.org or view their Facebook page at www.facebook.com/BigBrothersBigSisters.
* Keith Hopkins, juvenile probation officer and private security officer, former Little with Big Brothers Big Sisters – 940-453-6313
* Heather Morrow, match support specialist, Big Brothers Big Sisters, Denton County – email@example.com
* Dick Rogers, psychology professor, Big with Big Brothers Big Sisters – firstname.lastname@example.org
* Janemarie Clark, regional executive director, Big Brothers Big Sisters, Denton County – 214-668-6913
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