BY MARIA JAMES — In the May edition of the Hyattsville Life & Times, I openly shared my challenge with finding my identity as a single adult who is childless and lives in our family-oriented community. I received many positive and encouraging messages from others who are living the single, childless life in our city. One comment, in particular, encouraged me to identify what I love doing and not let my status keep me from attending events or meetings. I recently contacted Big Brothers Big Sisters of the National Capital Area (BBBSNCA) hoping to become involved, and I was excited to learn the organization is seeking mentors to help youth in Hyattsville. I may have found my fit!
According to their website, Big Brothers Big Sisters of America is the nation’s largest donor- and volunteer-supported mentoring network. The organization matches adult volunteers (“Bigs”) and children and youth (“Littles”), ages 6 through 18, in communities across the country.
Sydney Cross, a bilingual program coordinator with BBBSNCA, is on a mission to match 35 young people with mentors. Cross, whose brother, Matthew, is a police officer for the Hyattsville City Police Department, says this is her labor of love. “Recruitment of mentors and mentees must happen first, followed by matching and supporting them to grow and succeed. This program will build the capacity of low-income families in a way that, over time, will mitigate poverty,” Cross explained. Cross will hold a volunteer orientation on Sept. 19 from 7 to 8:30 p.m. at the organization’s Lanham office. I hope to help her exceed her goal, which is really about more than just meeting numbers. Cross is hoping to build a network of mentor relationships that support youth in our Hyattsville community.
Based on data from the Americorps VISTA, 13 percent of the city’s residents live below the poverty line. The seven public schools within city limits serve 6,800 students who live in the city and in the greater community beyond city limits. Some 5,250 students are receiving free and reduced-cost meals, demonstrating that, in fact, at least 76 percent of local youth have significant financial needs.
Cross also stated that Hyattsville has frequently heard calls for mentorship. “These requests come from the elementary schools, where students need assistance with reading and self-esteem, as well as the middle schools and high schools, where students are increasingly being recruited into gangs and violence as well as becoming pregnant,” said Cross.
Mentors and students will be matched at these schools: Hyattsville Elementary, Edward M. Felegy Elementary, Rosa L.Parks Elementary, University Park Elementary, Hyattsville Middle School, Nicholas Orem Middle School and Northwestern High School.
Regardless of my marital or parental status, I proudly embrace Hyattsville as my community, and I want to take positive steps to get out of my comfort zone and find my place. This requires welcoming those pings of momentary discomfort I feel in my stomach when I enter a room or attend an event where no one knows me. I encourage you to step out of your comfort zone, too. If you’re interested in mentoring youth in our city and want to attend the orientation, Cross asks that you email her at firstname.lastname@example.org. I will be at the Sept. 19 orientation; maybe I will see you there!