UA Big Brothers and Sisters reach out to Tucson youths

By Hanh Quach
Arizona Daily Wildcat
January 16, 1996

Katherine K. Gardiner
Arizona Daily Wildcat

Richard Fergus, right, takes as many as 10 hours a week out of his busy class and work schedule to be a Big Brother to sixth grader Louis Aguirre.


Even while juggling a 16-unit course load and working 30 hours a week as a community service officer at UAPD, Richard Fergus still finds time for someone else.

Fergus, a finance senior, says he likes to keep weekends free to spend time with his Little Brother Louis Aguirre.

Since April, Fergus has been a mentor to sixth-grader Aguirre, sometimes spending up to 10 hours a week with him.

Fergus, Aguirre and his mother, Olivia Guzman, all say they have noticed a positive change in Aguirre's attitude since then.

Before meeting Fergus, Aguirre said he never thought about going to college because he did not like school.

"He (Fergus) does it and he's getting somewhere and so that makes me wanna do it," Aguirre says.

Guzman said her son used to earn Cs and Ds. Now, he earns mostly As and Bs.

These results are not uncommon.

"All sorts of positive things happen with a mentor in the child's life," says Elissa Lines, associate director of Big Brothers and Big Sisters of Tucson.

A recent study conducted by Public/Private Ventures, an independent research organization, found that little brothers and sisters in the program were 52 percent less likely to skip a day of school than their peers.

Working with 178 matches of children and adults, Big Brothers and Big Sisters of Tucson faces a dearth of 129 adult volunteers, Lines says.

The program needs 91 qualified male volunteers and 38 qualified female volunteers for the "littles" on the waiting list.

University of Arizona students cannot only help fill this gap, but they can also gain college credit and enrich their lives.

The program builds long-term friendships and, in Tucson, some matches have lasted more than two years, Lines says.

"It gives them (the 'littles') something solid, it really keeps them on track and gives them self esteem," Lines said.

"You're there as a moral support," Fergus says.

Candidates must filter through a series of interviews, orientation, police checks, one-on-one sessions with counselors and must submit five letters of recommendation. Usually, only one in four candidates is qualified to be a "big," Lines says.

A candidate must be at least 18, self-confident, have positive goals, and respect for children and adults, and promise, to commit at least four hours a week for one year to their "little," Lines says.

For most volunteers, the hours are inconsequential.

"The reward for the 'big' is just seeing your 'little' grow up and learn that there are opportunities out there other than gangs and peer pressure," Fergus says.

Tamieka Howell, a Big Sister for two years, has also found the experience rewarding.

"It's the satisfaction of helping guide someone from a low-income family whose mother is almost illiterate and has no older female role model," she says.

For Andrew Ellis, being a Big Brother gives him a chance look at life through another person's eyes.

Ellis, a second-year law student, says he tries to provide a positive male role model for 16-year-old Felix Miranda.

The courts suggested Miranda participate in this program after his mother said she was worried about the direction his life was taking, Ellis says.

Hiking, swimming, fixing meals and attending cultural events are just a few of Miranda's and Ellis' activities.

"If it's important to you, you'll always make time for it," Ellis says.

"It makes me feel good to know that I have a positive impact on him, so I make the time," Ellis says.

That extra attention often pays off.

"I'm happy now," Fergus' Little Brother Aguirre says. "I was always mad at my mom and my sister, but Richard takes me and helps take my mind off school and everything."

Guzman also says she notices her son's happiness.

Since Aguirre's father is not around, Guzman says her son has needed a good male role model and harbors resentment for his father.

With Fergus around, Guzman said her son is less upset with his father.

"In today's society, it's hard for a kid to be a kid anymore. They sometimes end up taking on adult responsibilities in single-parent homes," Fergus says. "I can help out in some way for the kid to enjoy himself and be a kid."