‘Bigs’ serve Waco youth

Byron Johnson
Byron Johnson
Byron Johnson

By Kate McGuire
Staff Writer

Mentoring underprivileged kids in the Waco area proves rewarding and beneficial for professors and possibly Baylor students.

Byron Johnson, Co-Director and ISR Distinguished Professor, of Social Sciences, received the Lone Star Big Brother award on Jan. 30 for his service with Waco’s Big Brother Big Sister program.

Johnson is the director of Baylor’s Institute for Studies of Religion and director of the Program on Prosocial Behavior as well as the Distinguished Professor of Social Sciences. Johnson has been at Baylor for more than eight years after living in Philadelphia.

Johnson said he became interested in researching servant leadership fields and the impact it has on both the servant and those they serve. His interest guided him toward a desire to enter the mentoring field by becoming a Big Brother, or a “Big,” to a Waco youth about five years ago.

“We are a volunteer mentoring network with kids ages 6 to 18 who participate in all different kind of BBBS activities,” said Chad Gibson, director of marketing in the program’s Lone Star Agency.

Big Brothers Big Sisters Lone Star Agency is the largest Big Brothers Big Sisters agency in the nation. Texas currently has about six programs that match mentors with children in that area to create bonds of encouragement that effect the lives of youth, BBBS Lone Star website states.

The Lone Star Agency has more than 10,000 kids in its program per year with about 4,000 – 5,000 at one time and serves North Texas, Houston and the West Central Texas area. Most people are involved in the community-based programs where they meet with their mentee once a week, and the program would like mentors to meet with their Littles at least twice a month.

Kids in the program are considered at risk by the parents or guardians who enroll their children in the program due to their current living situations and are primarily kids in single parent households, Gibson said.

Different volunteer programs are offered by the agency that include community-based, school-based, women and high school groups, college prep tutoring and family-based groups.

Children are matched according to the program or group they are enrolled in and their gender. Men are matched with boys and women with girls, unless they are in the couples program where spouses may mentor a child toegther or a family may be invited to include the mentee in family activities.

Specialists at Big Brothers Big Sisters Lone Star Agency who monitor a mentor’s influence on their mentees nominate some of their top mentors to receive the Lone Star Big Brother of the year award. Johnson was the top nomination for this year ,Gibson said.

“His biggest thing is consistency,” Gibson said. “Some kids have had people walk out on them in their lives, so to have Byron who has been with his Little for over four years – which is above average – that is an example of his influence.”

Johnson is nominated to win the Texas Big Brother of the Year award. If he wins that award, he also has the chance to win the National Big Brother of the Year award.

His mentee is Blake West, a junior in high school in the Waco school system, who has hopes of joining the junior police academy in Waco and pursuing a career in law enforcement.

Johnson’s impact includes talking to his little about school, classes and potential colleges as well as taking him to Baylor sports events and hanging out. All mentors do different activities with their mentees.

“They will do projects or just eat together,” Gibson said. “Some big things are bringing them to Ranger games.”

Gibson and Johnson encourage college students to volunteer in the program.

“I have been wanting to get Baylor students involved because this is a great opportunity for college students to serve the Waco community,” Johnson said.

For more information on BBBS and volunteering positions, visit www.bbstx.org