When T.J. and Chief Bell have lunch, it is definitely a power lunch! Once a week Fire Chief Larry Bell arrives at T.J.’s school, along with other Abilene firefighters, in what else but a shiny red firetruck, ready to spend the next half hour visiting and mentoring with his “little”. T.J. is a cool kid! His interests are typical of a guy his age – sports, games, and friends. He is very social and ready to talk and play as soon as they sit down. It is not uncommon for him to be waving and greeting his friends as they walk by informing his “big” a little about each of them as he sees them; eating lunch is secondary.
Several years ago the City of Abilene began a recruitment initiative, “30 Mentors in 30 days”, to educate city employees about mentoring a young child through Big Brothers Big Sisters’ site-based program known as “Lunch Buddies”. The Abilene Fire Department was eager to begin making a difference in the lives of these children! This program makes a positive impact on the lives of Abilene kids and on the mentors in the program. “I have visited with the firefighters serving as mentors and it is evident they have taken a lot from the experience. They have shared funny stories as well as stories that are touching,” says Chief Bell. “Real life is being shared.” Chief Bell has been a mentor in the community-based program, so he had an idea of what to expect. He says what he didn’t anticipate was the relationships that he would develop with the other students, the teachers, and the school staff.
A grant from the Community Foundation’s discretionary grant cycle was awarded to support the mentoring program of Big Brothers Big Sisters. It helps at-risk youth achieve higher aspirations, greater confidence and better relationships while also avoiding risky behaviors and achieving educational success. Big Brothers Big Sisters matches a carefully screened and trained volunteer mentor with a child in need of guidance. These matches are supported by a caseworker who monitors the safety of the relationship through monthly conversations with the parent, the child, and the mentor.
“My hope is that my “little” benefited from our time together as much as I did. I am thankful for the opportunity and look forward to next school year. I have taken a lot from the match. Life is about relationships, and the relationship I have with T.J. is an important one in my life. He makes me smile and he gives me good perspective on what is important,” says Chief Bell.