Five questions for … Terry F. Hickey

As a University of Maryland law student in the late 1990s, Terry F. Hickey looked for ways to reach troubled teens before they ended up in the juvenile justice system. In 1997, he took a course that had been created to determine whether lawyers and law students, who typically work with children after they get in trouble, could help youths improve their neighborhoods. Hickey and a group of high school students in Park Heights began mapping vacant houses in their community and presenting findings to city leaders. More than 20 houses identified by the students were demolished.

The process led him to found Community Law in Action, a nonprofit group that he ran for more than a decade in Baltimore. CLIA operates law-related academic programs at five local high schools and runs law-related workplace mentoring programs as well as re-entry youth programs in jails and juvenile justice centers.

Those experiences paved the way for his latest challenge as the new CEO and president of Big Brothers Big Sisters of the Greater Chesapeake: help expand the number of youth served. The organization relies on adult volunteers to mentor children, pairing them up for activities and workplace and school programs. Hickey, who took over Monday, said he sees his role as providing kids with support to make positive decisions and overcome obstacles.

What are some of the circumstances or challenges facing children who come into the Big Brothers Big Sisters mentorship programs in central Maryland and areas of the Eastern Shore and Southern Maryland?

We serve children in 14 counties and Baltimore City and their challenges are as diverse as their neighborhoods. Generally speaking, they come from places of instability. Last year, nearly a quarter of our children had a parent in prison. Nine in 10 lived with a single parent or no parent at all. Many children are referred to us by teachers or counselors because they are struggling in school and often have been suspended more than once.

What's the most important way a role model can help or positively influence a troubled child?

What we do is based on the idea that every successful person has someone in their past who helped them get where they are today. Everyone needs positive attention from an adult that creates new paths for their future. Just being a dependable, constant figure in a child's life results in greater confidence, healthier relationships and better academic performance.

Of course there can be real challenges in mentoring a child living in poverty, dealing with a chaotic home life or struggling academically. We have a unique model: one child, one carefully trained adult mentor and one match support person regularly checking in to offer guidance and encouragement. It's a model that works. Matches stay together longer, which creates stronger outcomes.

How difficult is it to recruit volunteers for the one-on-one mentorship programs as well as for the school-based and workplace-based programs? What do you plan to do to develop new ways to recruit and train mentors?

Identifying qualified mentors to serve as "Bigs" can be a challenge, particularly when the focus is on at-risk youth or young people involved in the juvenile justice system. Also, finding enough men to serve as mentors to the 400-plus boys on our wait-list can be difficult for any number of reasons.

Both school- and workplace-based mentoring programs have also been hurt by downturns in the economy. My challenge is to keep the organization visible and relevant in the communities we serve while also raising the funds needed to provide an adequate amount of support. We also need to continue building strategic relationships with new partners and finding more ways to share mentoring success stories with potential volunteers.

Can you talk about the organization's plan to triple the number of youngsters it will work with in the future, as well as the idea of expanding the group's "fee-for-service model," in which it will offer training to companies that want to get involved in mentoring?

We are committed to expanding the number of youth we serve over the next several years, both through one-on-one matches, school and workplace mentoring. However, it will also be necessary to look at innovative ways to utilize mentoring to address critical issues such as family stability, workplace preparedness, school attendance and college readiness. Mentoring can be a key element in strategies to address all of these issues, and we need to make this widely known.

Another priority is to increase capacity to provide training and technical support. As corporations continue to embrace employee involvement as a key component of corporate giving strategies, there is an increased value in the expertise held by our organization. Mentoring is one of the best ways to engage employees in meaningful service. It has been shown to improve staff morale while making a measurable impact on the community.

What are some ways you unwind?

With my new position, and being the father of a high-energy 2-year old, there doesn't seem to be a lot of time for "unwinding" lately. Luckily, I am able to combine my parent role with a love of food by taking my son to the Baltimore Farmers' Market every Sunday throughout the season. I also love playing organized sports when possible, and I have become an avid wine collector.

Terry F. Hickey

President and CEO of Big Brothers Big Sisters of the Greater Chesapeake

Age: 43

Education: Graduate of the University of Rochester and University of Maryland School of Law

Residence: Locust Point, Baltimore City

Family: Wife, Christine, and 2-year-old son, Rowan

Hobbies: politics, cooking, new addiction to e-books

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