United Way sponsors Big Brothers Big Sisters program
Torrez Dawson has noticed some changes in 12-year-old D'Marco Jackson, a Kennedy School student, during the past eight months.
Since becoming D'Marco's "big brother" in January through the Big Brothers Big Sisters of Douglas County program, he has watched him gain confidence and become a better student.
"He was pretty shy when I first knew him," Dawson said. "I've watched him talk more and introduce himself. His progress in school has been remarkable."
That's the goal of the Big Brothers Big Sisters program.
"Big Brothers Big Sisters makes a difference in the life of a child by providing mentors who share their time, talents and interest with that child in a consistent and caring manner," said Vicky Leitnaker, program director for Big Brothers Big Sisters.
The program matches children ages 5 through 17 with screened volunteers who spend from one to four hours per week together.
D'Marco's mom, Robyn Mendoza, a single mom who also has 3-year-old and 4-year-old sons, said she was thankful for the program because it provided her son with a male role model.
She said Dawson, 34, plays sports with D'Marco and helps him with his schoolwork.
"I was having a lot of problems with him (D'Marco), and I think that is what he needed," Mendoza said. "It gets him away from home and out and about."
Dawson said D'Marco is a great kid; not only does he have great athletic ability, but his smile is consuming.
"First and foremost, we have fun -- no matter what the activity," Dawson said. "He is such an awesome and curious kid. He always wants to know how this works and that works. It doesn't take much to please him."
When asked what his favorite activity is with Dawson, D'Marco simply replied "eating."
D'Marco said he loved Dawson's cooking. His favorite is barbecue chicken.
Besides eating, the two have enjoyed activities such as playing video games and basketball, watching movies and attending Royals games.
D'Marco described his big brother as "cool and fun."
Jaimie Duguid, program director of Big Brothers Big Sisters, said Dawson is an "ideal big."
"He just does a really good job of taking care of D'Marco," Duguid said. "They are a phenomenal match."
Dawson credits his upbringing in Wichita with three younger brothers. He also was involved in a church youth group.
"The key is to make sure young people can learn about life skills and social skills," Dawson said. "They need to learn how to deal with conflicts and wayward situations. I don't have the power to discipline, but I can be a friend."
Duguid said there are 207 children waiting to be matched with an adult volunteer. Of those, 133 are boys and 74 are girls.
Dawson, residential supervisor at the Shelter Inc., said he decided to become a big brother after seeing the difference in a child who was at the Shelter.
"There was a kid who went through our program who needed someone to mentor him, and he was hooked up," Dawson said. "It made a big difference."