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'Bmore, Be BIG' effort aims to recruit 100 male mentors for Baltimore kids

After the #BaltimoreRiots, mentoring inquiries surged 3,000%. Only 14 Baltimore men have been matched since.

In the days and weeks after the April riots in Baltimore, hundreds of people interested in becoming mentors to city youths called Big Brothers Big Sisters of the Greater Chesapeake. In six months, the organization fielded four times as many inquiries as it did in all of 2014.

But only 14 Baltimore men have completed the process of applying, interviewing and being matched to a child, according to the organization.

The dismal showing prompted a broad range of city leaders — six Baltimore City Council members, two state senators, and the city's police and fire chiefs — to call Monday for at least 100 more male mentors to apply by the end of the month. They dubbed their campaign "Bmore, Be BIG."

"There are 250 boys in Baltimore city right now whose — in large part — mothers were brave enough to come to us and ... some have said, 'There's not a man in my son's life I trust him with right now,'" said Terry Hickey, the Big Brothers Big Sisters president and CEO. "Think about that. What does it mean? I have a 4-year-old right now. To think about him having nobody, his daddy, to call, is one of the scariest things ever."

The organization provides mentoring services in more than a dozen Maryland counties, but Baltimore is home to one-quarter of the 1,100 children waiting for a mentor. Mentors are matched to children of the same gender, and more boys have requested to be a part of the program than girls.

More than 100 women have completed the application process in Baltimore, outstripping demand. Many have been put on a waiting list for a child to mentor and given other volunteer opportunities within the program.

The organization said it fielded more than 1,800 inquiries about mentorship opportunities in the months following the unrest over the death of Freddie Gray, a 25-year-old man who died of a spinal injury sustained in police custody. About one-third of interested volunteers were men, but only 10 percent followed up with a second phone call or email, and even fewer completed the next steps.

"Women get it. Women get the message that mentoring can save and change a life," said City Councilman Brandon Scott, who represents Northeast Baltimore. "But for some reason, the men in our city, we want to remain on the couch and on the sidelines.

"Too many of us are afraid to get out there and mentor our own sons, our own brothers, our own cousins, because that's what these young men are."

Scott said the lack of mentorship in the city is illustrated "when we look at what's going on across our city with the violence, when we look at where these young people live and are breathing and seeing this violence every day."

Councilman Eric Costello of Federal Hill listed some of the benefits of mentoring, including students being less likely to miss school and get into fights.

"There's definitely a need for this in our city, and we're going to be talking about it every day for the entire month of November, and I'm sure we're going to be talking about it after," Costello said. "This is a very important program, and it's our sincere hope we're going to get more men involved."

Fire Chief Niles Ford said he became a mentor in the program a year ago and has grown close to his "little" and the boy's grandmother. He said it doesn't require a large financial or time commitment to make a big difference.

"I knew there were young people out there who could use me, but quite frankly, I knew there were some young people out there that I could be a part of their lives and enrich myself," he said.

Police Commissioner Kevin Davis said he has mentors from his upbringing he still consults today.

The department's reintroduction of the "Officer Friendly" program and addition of a "Building Bridges" program in middle schools is intended to forge relationships between police officers and students, he said.

"Mentoring absolutely, positively contributes to public safety," Davis said. "You can't have enough mentors in your life."

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