Voices of Florida. Made possible through the generous support of the Gidel Family Foundation.

Dagoberto Cruz: One little brother’s story…

By LAUREN KOFCHAK

Each of us needs mentors, individuals who take the time to teach us, guide us, and help us grow. While it’s hard to dispute the value of these individuals in the lives of children, the sad reality is that not all children grow up surrounded by strong and positive role models. Dagoberto’s mother worked hard to provide for her family, but he was still missing a strong male role model in his life. Thankfully for Dagoberto, Big Brothers Big Sisters of Greater Miami presented another option: A relationship with “big brother,” Steve. Dagoberto speaks openly about how having a mentor has helped shape his life and motivated him to move past the obstacles he has faced and to strive for a brighter future. “Mentoring can give you inspiration. It can make you strive,” says Dagoberto. With the support of his Big Brother Steve, Dagoberto recently graduated from high school and received a scholarship from Carnival Cruise Line that will financially support him in his aspirations to continue his education. He has been accepted to various universities including Penn State University, where he has decided to major in Mechanical Engineering. For Big Brother Steve, he says the possibilities for Dagoberto’s future are “limitless.”

The benefits of high-quality mentoring programs are clear. Studies have shown that children with a mentor are less likely to begin using illegal drugs or alcohol, skip school, or initiate fights. These children are more confident in their school performance and get along better with their families. It is the stories of Dagoberto and others like him that speak to how each of us can have an impact both in the life of a child and the future of our communities. “What is the impact on the state of Florida? What is the impact on our communities?,” asks Gale Nelson, Vice President of Programs for Big Brothers Big Sisters of Greater Miami. “The impact," he answers, "is right there—graduating students, kids moving on and going on to college, being productive citizens in our community."

The importance of mentorship programs has long been recognized by policymakers. In 1999, Gov. Jeb Bush, a true proponent for mentoring and someone who mentored himself, launched the Governor’s Mentoring Initiative to promote mentoring statewide. Governor Rick Scott has spoken in support of mentoring, too, stating, “The exponential impact of a system-wide mentoring program will follow Floridians throughout their careers and has the potential for major societal impact.” However, despite the recognition of the potential impact of these programs, state and federal funding for mentorship programs has declined over the last several years.

The Children’s Movement believes that providing strong, positive role models through high-quality mentoring programs can have a lasting impact on Florida’s children. With more than 4 million children in the state of Florida, The Children’s Movement believes that every child should have a strong, positive role model is his or her life. Big Brothers Big Sisters, Take Stock in Children, Teen Trendsetters, Best Buddies, Boys and Girls Clubs, and the YMCA, among others, are working diligently to provide children in need with supportive mentors. Mentoring programs are an investment in our state and in our future – and programs such as these simply need the continued support of our state’s elected officials. There are many children in Florida like Dagoberto, and each of them deserves the chance to be successful in both school and in life.