Big Brothers Big Sisters Altering Perspectives and Saving Lives

February 27, 2018
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Chris McNamara, right, has been a positive influence on Logan, his “little brother” through Big Brothers Big Sisters of Monmouth County. Photo courtesy BBBS

By Chris Rotolo |

A life can change for the better simply with a shift in perspective.

Such was the case for Chris McNamara, who was faced with the fight of his life in the summer of 2011, when he was diagnosed with colon cancer.

It was an illness he would ultimately overcome, but the battle had altered his perception of what it meant to truly live.

“After having survived that, I saw it as sort of having a second chance at life,” McNamara said. “Then I was left with the question, what was I going to do with this opportunity?”

McNamara had previously felt compelled to join the local chapter of Big Brothers Big Sisters, but facing his own mortality placed a newfound sense of urgency on the decision.

“Going through that whole experience made me realize that now is the time,” McNamara said. “I wanted to do good. But more specifically, I wanted to have an active role in helping a local child as a mentor. I wanted to reach out to a young person in need, to get them out of their everyday environment and help them enjoy life.”

With the realization of a larger calling in tow, McNamara recognized the power of a perspective transformed, and how approaching a little brother or sister in this fashion could help place them on a path with broader horizons.

“The point of being a mentor is to try and change their viewpoint; try to show them that there’s more to life than what’s at their front door and just beyond it. It’s a big world. There’s lots of good out there. And I want to show him that he can experience all of the good, if he’s willing to focus, do the right things, and put the work in,” McNamara said of his little brother Logan, a local 13-year old he has been paired with since joining Big Brothers Big Sisters.

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“Every one of us has had a mentor in our lives at some point,” said Marybeth Bull, Big Brothers Big Sister director of development. “Someone who has been influential in helping us become the success that we are. And that’s what we try to provide with this program. We’re here to help kids who need a little push and a little more support in life; an extra person on their side.”

According to Bull, many of the boys and girls in the Big Brothers Big Sisters program come from a single-parent household and are facing such severe issues as poverty and various forms of abuse.

Bull also disclosed that though there are nearly 700 kids being served by the program, more than 50 other children are currently on a waiting list.

“These are children whose parents want the best for them, or who have a school counselor advocating for them. There’s somebody in their life who thinks they can flourish with an extra positive role model. Volunteers have the opportunity to be that role model, and I think they’ll find they get just as much, if not more, out of it than the child does,” said Bull.

Chuck Leone has been a mentor to Kweli for the past four years providing a positive and supportive influence. Photo courtesy BBBS

Red Bank dentist Chuck Leone is another mentor with Big Brothers Big Sisters, and shared a similar sentiment to that of Bull.

“My family, my wife and I, we’ve been very fortunate in our lives, to the point where we’ve been able to make various monetary donations to groups over the years. But it’s an impersonal experience. With Big Brothers Big Sisters, you have an opportunity to see firsthand the positive impact you’re having on a young life.”

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Leone has acted as a mentor to a local 14-year old named Kweli for the past four years, and has witnessed the strength of their relationship reveal a clearer picture of what the future could hold for the high school freshman.

“When we first met, I’m not sure that college would have been in his future, or if he believed that it could be an option for him,” Leone said. “But it was during this past holiday season, he turned to me and said that he wants to graduate high school and college and have a successful career as a way to repay me for everything I’ve done for him. And to hear that, it’s an incredible feeling.

“I hope Kweli knows how proud of him I am that he has developed this vision of his future,” Leone continued. “I’m so proud that he’s decided to put in the work to achieve it. And I hope he knows that it’s my goal to help him get there.”

Leone and McNamara are two of a multitude of remarkable mentors involved with Big Brothers Big Sisters, but with each successful mentor-little relationship the program grows, placing a demand for more volunteers, especially males.

“Of the 50 children on our waiting list, 36 of them are boys, which is why we really want to appeal to more males to step up and mentor our boys,” Bull said. “These are the kids who are growing up without a father figure and it’s so important for a developing child to have a strong, positive male figure in their life.”

For more information on Big Brothers Big Sisters visit bbbsmmc.org.


This article was first published in the Feb. 22-March 1, 2018 print edition of The Two River Times.

 

 

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