Students, kids connect with program

By Yvonne Condes

Arizona Daily Wildcat

When Andy Aldridge, 26, was growing up in a large family in Lake Havasu City, his daily concerns were simple, ranging from schoolwork to hanging out by the water. Life for 14-year-old Brian Mendoza is quite different. He has no father figure and the Tucson High School student must deal with the influences of drugs and gangs.

"He gives me a perspective I don't usually see," said Aldridge, a third-year University of Arizona medical school student.

Aldridge has been Brian's Big Brother, through Big Brothers/Big Sisters of Tucson, for four years. The non-profit agency provides hundreds of children with adult role models outside the home.

He began volunteering for the program because he "had always wanted to do it," Aldridge said.

Bill Van Hook, 26, went with Aldridge to the orientation and became a Big Brother for Saguaro High School student Carlton Bashier, 14.

Van Hook, also a third-year medical school student, has watched Carlton's interests evolve from Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles to football and girls, he said.

"It's funny to watch him change," he said.

Carlton was on a waiting list for four years before being matched, and Shanna Beckwith, 11, had gone through two Big Sisters before being matched with Tamieka Howell.

Shanna lived in South Tucson and it was difficult to find anyone who would pick her up.

Howell, an exercise and sport sciences senior, is a Big Sister because she is an only child and wanted to "give another kid a chance to do things I couldn't," she said.

She takes Shanna to the mall, on bike rides, and in October the two will go with Big Brothers/Big Sisters to Disneyland. Howell helps her with homework and tries to be a positive influence in her life.

"Just convincing her that college is the place to go is my goal right now ... just so she sees that an African American woman is (making) it," Howell said.

Minority volunteers are needed, said Dave Green, senior counselor for Big Brothers/Big Sisters. Forty percent of the 80 boys and 40 girls on the waiting list are minorities, while only 15 percent of the volunteers are minorities. Boys in the program are ages eight to 17 with no adult male living at home. Girls are 6 to 17 years old who have one or two parents at home, but need additional support. After an application and screening process, volunteers are matched with a child who has similar needs and interests.

Becoming a parent for the child is not what being a Big Brother or Sister is about, Aldridge said. Being a friend and not a disciplinarian makes the role a little different. Brian is interested in a career in professional sports which is what "everyone wants at age 14," Aldridge said. They play a lot of basketball together on the weekends.

"I don't let him win. I think that's good. It makes you work harder," Aldridge said.

Volunteers for the program can also be tutors, music teachers or coaches with a minimum one hour a week commitment, Howell said. Some students can get college credit for volunteering through the Amigo Project of Pima Community College. Credits are transferable to the UA, said Green.

Van Hook, Aldridge and Howell recommend other students to the program.

"You realize quickly it's not a burden," Aldridge said. "I think both people get a lot out of it."

There will be a meeting on Monday in the Student Union room 283 to learn more about Big Brothers/Big Sisters, or call 624-BIGS.

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