“If we’re able to change a life, just one life, it makes it worth it,” said Sebastian Martinez, Marketing and Outreach Coordinator for Big Brothers Big Sisters of Central New Mexico.
Martinez announced a new program that aims to pair young people with mentors who work in policing and fire fighting.
The “Bigs with Badges” program (also known as Bigs with Blue), is a nationwide initiative developed by BBBS CEO, Pam Deorio. The program was created to build bridges between local communities and first responders, particularly police officers.
“Police officers, often times don’t see these kids unless they are putting them in the back of a police car, or talking to their parent or whoever it is regarding a domestic violence issue,” Martinez said.
Like many of the existing programs developed by BBBS, Bigs with Badges highlights youth success and community outreach.
“The program was basically designed in result of the (anti-police) riots and a lot of the confusion that is going on in this country between law enforcement and our communities. Albuquerque is a big hub for that right now with all the stuff that’s gone on with APD and that sort of thing. Not only that, but crime in the city is incredibly high,” Martinez said. “It is something that is close to us every day, which is why we decided to start the program here.”
Martinez was referring to the Albuquerque Police Department being under a federal reform plan to correct its use of excessive force. The reforms include growing greater community trust.
Bigs with Badges has been implemented in other Big Brothers Big Sisters Program including those in California, Tennessee and Florida.
Gonzales served as a BBBS mentor for ten years, while Arrieta is has been an active mentor for the past four years.
“I think that anybody that has a bad idea about what they (police) do would benefit greatly from just spending a day with law enforcement,” said Arrieta.
“I don’t think a lot of people understand or even know what law enforcement goes through. People see what they see on tv, or they hear about things through the media, but, if you were there with them on a daily basis like we are, you’d realize exactly how positive they are and some of the not-so-positive things that they have to deal with.” Arrieta added.
Gonzales agreed the program goes a long way to promote greater understanding.
“I think the benefits are that it humanizes the person that’s doing the program and it gives the Little an opportunity to build a relationship with that person and get a better understanding of what law enforcement does,” Gonzales said.
Gonzales promotes the Bigs with Badges program to other deputies within the Sheriff Department.
“I believe that this program will impact [the community] positively because out in public people will see law enforcement with a young adults and have a positive representation and image of law enforcement in that they are acting as a mentor for that person,” Gonzales said. “They get an opportunity to go do activities or have an impact on their life.”
According to a Big Brothers Big Sisters Mentoring Study, youth who participated in a BBBS program show higher success rates in multiple areas when being compared to those who do not participate in the program.
Participation in the Big Brothers Big Sisters Program has helped young people avoid drug and alcohol use, while also improving a youth’s school behavior and performance.
While mentoring programs offer many benefits to the youth, including academic, social, and behavioral success, the Bigs with Badges project offers a unique twist.
“It is vital for the police officers to see and to understand why these kids do what they do, how they are raised, what kind of environments they’re in,” Martinez said. “And actually getting to know each other on a one-to-one level is very important and can change everything.”
Bigs with Badges is still in its beginning stages only recently started its promoting and recruiting process. As of now the program has partnerships with the Bernalillo County Sheriff’s Department, Albuquerque Fire Department, UNM Police Department and the Bernalillo County Fire Department.
The BBBS of Central NM is working towards achieving a goal of twenty-one matches by spring of 2018.
“We just want our kids to have good mentors.” Martinez said.
There is a high demand for male mentors at this time as there is a growing list of 200+ young boys waiting to be matched with a Big.
First responders and police officers have a choice of one or two programs within the agency. There is the Mentor 2.0 program, which deals with high-school aged kids and aims to increase graduation rates throughout the city, or the community based program, focused on children ages 6-12.