Journal Inquirer

February 27, 2016

MANCHESTER — When Kim Mauro decided last year to volunteer as a mentor through Nutmeg Big Brothers Big Sisters, she didn’t realize how much it would affect her life.
Mauro, a 27-year resident of Manchester and an assistant branch manager at First Niagara Bank, signed up to spend an hour a week with a student from Elisabeth M. Bennet Academy in a program at the East Side Resource Center.
But Mauro, the “big,” and her “little,” Natasha, got along so well that they wanted to spend more time together. They transferred to the organization’s community-based program so that could happen.
“We go to movies, we’ve been to UConn women’s games, bake cookies, play games, and we watch a lot of movies,” Mauro says.
Their time together varies based on schedules, but Mauro spends 10-30 hours a month with Natasha, and even more during holiday breaks, she says.
She’s also mentoring a second child through the East Side Resource Center program and recruits volunteers through her job, where she interacts with many people.
“When I hear someone who has a peek interest, I try to work it into the conversation,” Mauro says about recruiting additional mentors.
“Volunteering is so rewarding,” she says. “Big Brothers Big Sisters offers phenomenal opportunities and training to volunteers.”
This year marks Nutmeg Big Brothers Big Sisters’ 50th year of serving Connecticut children.
As the state’s largest volunteer mentoring network, Nutmeg professionally matches adult volunteers (bigs) with children (littles) ages 6-18 to give under-served youths weekly attention from a caring adult.
The organization’s growth and longevity over the last half century is supported by its unique mission, says Andrew Fleischmann, president and CEO of Nutmeg Big Brothers Big Sisters and a state representative serving the 18th House District in West Hartford.
“Oftentimes a big brother or sister falls in love with their little and it becomes family more than anything else,” he says. “There are not many organizations out there that aim to add love to a kid’s life, and essentially that is what we do.”
Manchester’s site-based youth mentoring program at East Side Resource Center serves around 15 students from Elisabeth M. Bennet Academy.
This year, Nutmeg sought to improve its services by launching the mentor academy to help mentors benefit their “littles” and improve matches, Fleischmann says.
“Our new program involves six different classes that we make available for people ready to become big brothers and big sisters,” he says. “It’s intended to give mentors the best opportunity to work well with their kids.”
A study from 1994-95 that surveyed eight Nutmeg agencies found that the mentorship program promotes positive behavior.
Kids involved with the program are 46 percent less likely to use drugs, 27 percent less likely to use alcohol, and 52 percent less likely to skip school, according to a social research organization, Public/Private Ventures.
“The credit goes to the fantastic volunteers,” Fleischmann says of his organization’s impact over the years. “They’re incredibly dedicated people who really have a heartfelt commitment to the children.”
A long-term goal for Fleischmann’s organization is to further serve the kids beyond graduation.
“We are thinking about ways we can keep supporting little brothers and sisters after they’ve graduated from high school,” he says. “That’s a long-term goal.”