In the wake of the demonstrations and riots following the death of 25-year-old Freddie Gray in police custody, Terry Hickey, president of the Big Brothers Big Sisters of the Greater Chesapeake, which includes Baltimore City, did not know what to expect. But he admits he was concerned that the news reports and televised images of the protests might negatively impact the nonprofit's mentoring work in Baltimore City.
"I was worried, frankly, there might be a backlash and that people would shy away from signing up as mentors for Baltimore youth," Hickey says. "Instead, we've been flooded with calls, with people specifically saying, 'I want to work with older kids, high school-age students."
The increase in the number of mentorship inquires over the past week has been staggering.
"We've seen a 3,000 percent increase," he tells Baltimore magazine. "And 70 percent of those are for Baltimore City. Normally, we receive about 4-5 inquires a day from potential adult mentors. Now, we've been getting more than 600 inquires a day for the past six days.
"It's been unbelievable," Hickey continues. "There's also a lot of people who maybe inquired a month ago and now are following up."
Hickey says the organization's waiting list for "big brothers" and "big sisters" in Baltimore City alone is roughly 600 kids, adding that it isn't unusual for kids to remain on the list for 6-7 months at a time.
He's even become hopeful that the organization's waiting list can be "pared to the bone" in the near future.
According to a recent story by Reuters, research has shown that after 18 months of spending time with their "bigs"—as mentors are called—little brothers and little sisters "were 46 percent less likely to use illegal drugs, 27 percent less likely to begin using alcohol, 52 percent less likely to skip school and 33 percent less likely to hit someone, as compared to those children not in the program."
"This outpouring of interest in becoming a mentor in Baltimore reflects the best in our country — people looking for solutions — looking for ways to make life better for others," Pam Iorio, president and CEO of Big Brothers Big Sisters of America tells Rueters.
Big Brothers Big Sisters was founded in 1901 and has been in Baltimore since 1952, currently serving about 1,000 youth in Baltimore City and Central Maryland, along with its satellite locations on the Eastern Shore and in Southern Maryland.
Hickey says "bigs" are asked to spend 4-6 hours a month with the youth they mentor while committing to a minimum of one year's participation in the program.
"It doesn't cost money to mentor kids, which is sometimes a myth that's out there," Hickey says. "We have great sponsors, like the Orioles, the Ravens and Under Armour, that donate tickets to various events. It's your time and your presence that makes a difference."
More information on Big Brothers Big Sisters of the Greater Chesapeake, including information on how to apply as a mentor, can be found here.