Celebrating Hispanic Heritage Month: Latino Kids Need Mentors
As long as Jose Vega could remember, he’d been surrounded by role models. The youngest of 2 in a tight knit Latino family, Vega grew up alongside his older sister and 2 older cousins who were often confused as his brothers. Looking up to them, Vega was able to learn from them; good and bad, shaping him into the person he is today.
For many Latino families, mentoring resides within the family. The idea of helping a kid outside of the extended residence is unusual. That’s one of the reasons why there’s a lack of volunteers to mentor the 800 boys, most of them of color, on the waiting list at Big Brothers Big Sisters of Massachusetts Bay. That’s why Vega’s decision to reach outside the family circle to volunteer as a Big is so admirable.
Vega, 26, began his interest in mentoring while working at the Boston Children’s Hospital as a nurse. After caring for kids in hospital beds with no father figures or male role models it became apparent how important that ‘male connection’ was. Despite the temporary connection of a hospital bed, Vega felt that filling that void as a friend brought incredible joy to the kids he helped and was incredibly rewarding for him.
Seeking a longer term impact, Vega decided to reach out to the Big Brothers Big Sisters of Massachusetts Bay program in 2011, where he was quickly matched with his Little Brother Alex, age 11. Unlike Vega, Alex’s father wasn’t in the picture and he lacked a consistent male role model in his life. They immediately connected over shared cultural and racial backgrounds, which Vega admits benefited their friendship.
“It has been easier for us to relate to each other” said Vega, “With common interests like the type of foods we eat, playing the same games we have played growing up and of course the ability to speak another language; it brings another level of comfort to our relationship that can only benefit Alex”.
As their friendship develops, Vega and Alex are closer than ever. They typically see each other once a month for a couple hours and go bowling or just grab food and talk. Thanks to the donors at Big Brothers Big Sisters of Massachusetts Bay, Vega was even able to take Alex to his very first Red Sox game at Fenway Park where they ordered Fenway Franks and saw Big Papi.
“I feel happier now because my Big Brother cares about me and he goes out when we both can, not just when he can. He’s generous and not bossy,” said Alex, “It’s exciting to be able to stay out later. My grandma can’t always bring me everywhere my Big Brother can.”
Even though Vega’s exceptional volunteer efforts have benefited Alex and his family, there are not enough Latinos in the Boston area to go around. Currently, only 4% of the volunteers in the program are Hispanic and 28% of the kids being enrolled are Spanish speaking. This means, an increasing number of Latino boys can’t be served and will remain on a lengthy waiting list until more Spanish-speaking males give back to the community and volunteer.
“With 800 boys in the community waiting to be matched and so many of them seeking a Spanish speaking Big Brother, we’re asking Hispanic male volunteers to step up this Hispanic Heritage Month” said Deborah Krause, VP of External Relations and Community Engagement at Big Brothers Big Sisters of Massachusetts Bay, “Being a mentor to a Little Brother is fun, easy and affordable- and it can change the life of a child forever.”
“I truly believe in the positive influence and impact that a Big Brother can have on their little,” said Vega, “you can really make a difference.”
To learn more about becoming a Big Brother or how to get involved with Big Brothers Big Sisters of Massachusetts Bay’s Diversity Council, contact Ivett Delgado at IDelgado@bbbsmb.org or visit https://www.bbbsmb.org.