July 31, 2014

Elyria
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Big Brothers Big Sisters matches children in need with volunteers, but federal cuts could gut program

ELYRIA – Thirteen-year-old Jamy Mack doesn’t get to see his father very often, so he likes spending time with his Big Brother, Bill Doebele.

The two make cookies, hike at Cascade Park and go to sporting events.

Bill a retired air traffic control engineer, shows Jamy what’s important in life, and Jamy likes hanging around Bill and his family.

When the pair met 2½ years ago, Jamy freely admits, he had a little problem – he thought it was entirely normal to mouth off to his hard-working mom, Amy Lewis.

“Bill talked to me, and he said that’s not nice and I may hurt my mother’s feelings,” Jamy said. “I never mouth off to Bill.”

Similar life lessons happen all of the time for 42 young people in Lorain County like Jamy who have a parent in prison and also have a Big Brother or Big Sister.

But the program, supported by $26,410 in federal funding, is in jeopardy unless Congress restores the money to Big Brothers Big Sisters, said Lise Day, executive director of Big Brothers Big Sisters of Lorain County.

The mentoring money from the federal government supports 15 percent of the budget for Big Brothers Big Sisters of America and its 371 agencies.

The agency estimates 33,833 children could lose their mentors because of the elimination of funding, which occurred in the same U.S. House of Representatives appropriations bill earlier this month that also eliminated funding to community health centers such as Lorain County Health & Dentistry.

Day said the national organization is working to get the word out to members of the U.S. Senate in hopes that it will work to restore funding, perhaps in a compromise bill.

Day said the adult mentors “give the children someone to talk to and confide in and they’re exposed to new opportunities and new lifestyles.”

“Too many times with a parent incarcerated there’s a lack of resources and they’re more likely to live in poverty,” Day said.

“If you keep kids off drugs, in school and getting along with people you keep them out of prison,” Day said.

“Through mentoring they’re 46 percent less likely to use drugs,” she said.

An estimated 7.3 million children nationwide have one or both parents in prison or under some form of state or federal probation, according to figures provided by Big Brothers Big Sisters.

Without effective intervention, 70 percent of the children will follow in their parents’ footsteps, according to a Congressional study quoted by Big Brothers Big Sisters.

“We don’t want them to follow in that path – we want them to use their God-given talents to be an asset to society instead of a drag on society,” Day said.

Jamy’s mom said the program has been a lifesaver since her common-law husband, Jeremy Mack, went to prison after a standoff with police.

A relative told her about the program, and all three of her kids have benefited, she said.

Her eldest, Toby Lewis, now 16, was mentored by a Cleveland police officer who taught him karate and helped him stay away from gangs, she said.

Her middle child Jeremy, now 15, wanted to be mentored by a woman, and his “Big” takes him to church, to the Splash Zone in Oberlin and uses his muscle to volunteer to feed the homeless.

Amy Lewis said Jamy’s Big – Bill Doebele – is an incredible person who helps the family at every turn.

“I don’t have to pay anything for Jamy for school – Bill does it out of his own pocket,” she said.

If that’s not enough, she said, Doebele ordered Jamy a pair of boots he had been wanting for Christmas and gave an extra set to Jeremy, who also needed boots.

Doebele said Jamy likes learning things every other kid his age does – like making money shoveling snow for neighbors.

Jamy’s mom approves of the path Doebele is taking with dealing with her son, who has the challenge of attention deficit disorder.

“He’s taught Jamy that if you go out and work, you have money to get anything you want,” she said.

Doebele said he feels pretty good about helping Jamy and his family because the children’s mom is working so hard, most recently at Burger King.

“I think it’s amazing she can keep the three boys together and feed them and keep them clothed,” Doebele said.

Contact Cindy Leise at 329-7245 or cleise@chroniclet.com.