Since meeting more than four years ago, Mark Schlatter and Temoc Johnson-Flores have become good friends, going to basketball games, other events and enjoying the outdoors as they visit different parks.
“We have a little nickname for ourselves, the Park Bros,” Schlatter said.
“That’s definitely known by everyone,” the 14-year-old Temoc said of their self-proclaimed brand.
The Park Bros, who both live in Boulder, were formed after the two met through Big Brothers Big Sisters of Colorado. Schlatter is the big brother, or the “Big,” as the organization calls the men and women who sign up to be mentors. Temoc is the “Little,” one of hundreds of young people who participate in the programs and events while getting to know their Big Brothers or Big Sisters.
The Colorado organization is more than 100 years old. Founded as a Denver program in 1918, it merged with organizations in northern Colorado and Colorado Springs to become Big Brothers Big Sisters of Colorado.
Nationally, the program has been an institution for 118 years. Elycia Cook, CEO of the BBBS Colorado, said most people have heard of the organization and have their own ideas of what it is. Cook has a pitch ready for those who want to hear more.
“What I would say is we ignite the power and the potential that is already inside young people by making sure every young person has a trusting, caring person outside of their family who supports and encourages them,” Cook said.
Mentors help build their mentees’ confidence, “help them write their own story of what success looks like for them,” Cook added.
The organization focuses on youths between 9 and 18 who are facing adversity and are part of communities with the greatest need.
“While all children need a mentor, deserve a mentor, there are some people from under-resourced communities, people in tougher situations than usual, that we have been very intentional about targeting,” Cook said.
The program also concentrates on children whose parents are in prison or children who have recently lost a parent. Big Brothers are in high demand.
“Our biggest request is from single moms raising boys who want a male role model in their lives,” Cook said. “And we’ve seen an uptick from parents whose families want a mentor in their child’s life that looks like them.”
People interested in becoming mentors attend an orientation, go through an interview and a background check. Staffers find and suggest a match and provide support and training, including in diversity and equity issues. The process leading to making a match takes about two to four months.
Cook has answers for people who wonder if they have what it takes to be a mentor.
“If you can be a friend, you can be a mentor. If you have six to eight hours of time a month to give back to your community, you can be a mentor,” Cook said. “A lot of our kids have experienced a lot of trauma and they’ve experienced a lot of people not showing up in their lives.
“So, if you have the integrity to show up, you have the integrity to be a mentor. If you have ears to listen, you can be a mentor,” she added.
Some people worry that they’re too old to get involved, but Cook said some of the best mentors are in their 60s and 70s.
Several relationships between the “Bigs” and “Littles” have lasted for decades. Cook said she recently talked to a former mentor who said he and his mentee have stayed in touch for 70 years. The organization wants to hear from more alumni so they can record their stories.
“I hit the age of 35 and I realized I had never once volunteered for anything,” Schlatter said. “I had never donated to any good cause, so I decided that I wanted to and I started thinking about what I wanted to do.”
Big Brothers Big Sisters was the only program Schlatter said he considered.
“I like kids. I have fun with kids,” Schlatter said. “I was fortunate to get matched with Temoc. He’s awesome.”
Taking the first step by going to the presentation about the program “has been by far one of the best decisions of my life,” Schlatter said.
Temoc got involved with BBBS Colorado because his brothers were often busy working or in other states. “I needed someone to hang out with and a role model to look up to,” he said.
Temoc and Schlatter have attended group activities organized by BBBS Colorado. They’ve gone sailing and taken a ride in a small plane. They also just hang out. Temoc, who likes art, reading and graphic novels, drew a picture of Schlatter as a cowboy for his birthday.
“It was creative. It was a good drawing, my best birthday gift ever,” Schlatter said.
“I’m going to give you another one next year,” Temoc said.
Do the two think they’ll stay friends for as long as other “Bigs” and “Littles” have?
“My vote is ‘Yes,’” Schlatter said.
“Yes, double yes,” said Temoc.
Then they high-fived each other.
Big Brothers Big Sister of Colorado
Address: 750 W. Hampden Ave., Suite 450, Englewood, 80110
In operation since: 1918
Number of employees: 44
Annual budget: $3,978,083 , fiscal year 2023, which began Oct. 2022.
Money spent directly on programming: $3,026,528, fiscal year 2023
Number of clients served: 1,500, fiscal year 2022
The Denver Post Season To Share is the annual holiday fundraising campaign for The Denver Post and The Denver Post Community Foundation, a recognized 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization, tax identification #27-4328521. Grants are awarded to local nonprofit agencies that provide life-changing programs to help low-income children, families and individuals move out of poverty toward stabilization and self-sufficiency. Visit seasontoshare.com for more information.
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