PUBLISHED: 5:26 PM on Wednesday, October 15, 2008
Changing the world one youth at a time
Big Brothers Big Sisters, Coast Guard form partnership
Everybody on this earth has the ethical responsibility to make the world a better place. But how is this accomplished?

The way to a better world is one community at a time. Each community is only as strong as its weakest link. Parents want their children to succeed and most will do anything within their power to make that happen. Parents need help in this venture whether it comes from a school teacher, church leader, neighbor or a Big Brother Big Sister. We all have an opportunity to be an example to the youth of this world.

With this in mind, the Seventeenth Coast Guard District and the Juneau School District have agreed to form a partnership to increase connectedness, resiliency and academic, social, and life skills of Juneau school students through professionally supported mentoring relationships supervised and administered by Big Brothers Big Sisters of Juneau.

Coast Guardsmen who volunteer with Big Brothers Big Sisters are put through an extensive background check to ensure that the new relationship will be safe and rewarding for everyone involved. The volunteers can do their part through one of two programs: the school program or the community program.

The school program allows mentoring time at school between the volunteer adults and the youth within the program. Each mentor involved spends a minimum of one hour weekly with their assigned child. The time is spent doing normal everyday activities, which range from going over school work to playing with the children at recess.

Lt. Cmdr. Gary Koehler, Inspections and Investigations branch for the Seventeenth Coast Guard District, has been involved with the program for about eight months.

"I don't push education on him, but I give him someone to talk to and just hang out with. Sometimes we read, sometimes we play kickball," Koehler said. "It is a rewarding experience to bring a positive influence into a child's life."

The community program is much more wide ranged, with the mentoring program being spent within the community. Again, the mentor spends several hours with the child two to four times a month. The activities in this program are much the same as the school program but allows for more creativity and possibly more time between the mentor and child.

Petty Officer Joseph Baxter, a boatswains mate 2nd class on the Coast Guard Cutter Liberty, homeported in Auke Bay, explained that his role as a Coast Guardsman can sometimes make it difficult to fulfill obligations to Big Brothers Big Sisters while attached to an operational unit but "the beauty with the community program is that I can decide when to spend time with my 'Little Brother.'"

During their time together, Baxter and his 'Little Brother' have gone to the rifle range, archery range, hunting, fishing, camping, swimming and biking.

There are 216 kids in Juneau that are part of the Big Brothers Big Sisters program. Most of these kids have been matched to a mentoring 'Big Brother or Big Sister,' including 12 youth who have been matched with a Coast Guardsmen. Four other Coast Guardsmen are waiting to be matched with a 'Little.' The Coast Guardsmen may mentor only 6 percent of the Juneau children within the program. So far the stories and feedback provided by those involved prove the partnership has been a great success - not only for the children but also for the adults.

"I have been a 'Big Brother' for almost two years now and absolutely love the program. Though I have children of my own, I felt like I am able to make a big difference in a less fortunate child's life," said Lt.j.g. Brett Sprenger. "My particular 'Little Brother' came from a home where midway through last school year he lost his mother. I was able to be there for the young man, provide comfort and cheer him up. It was nice to know that though this little guy lost his mother, I was still able to make him laugh on occasion."

Sometimes mentoring even blossoms into lifelong friendships. One of those stories belongs to Lt. Todd Wimmer, formerly of the Coast Guard Civil Engineering Unit in Juneau who currently is attending graduate school at the University of Colorado. Wimmer's 'Little Brother,' Ernie, and Ernie's mother and sister drove from Alaska to Colorado to attend Wimmer's wedding.

A study performed by Public/Private Ventures, a Philadelphia-based national research organization, showed kids involved with Big Brothers Big Sisters of America are 46 percent less likely to begin using illegal drugs; 27 percent less likely to begin using alcohol; 52 percent less likely to skip school and 37 percent less likely to skip a class. The study also showed that the kids were more confident of their performance in schoolwork.

Can we change the world? Well, we can certainly do our part within our community. As I try to change the world, and as my fellow Guardians try to change the world one youth at a time, maybe ... just maybe, we can change the world together.