Be the change you wish to see

T-R PHOTO BY SARA JORDAN-HEINTZ Israel Cervantes, 12, left, and Joey Pittman, 20, right, have been matched for about two years in the Heart of Iowa Big Brothers Big Sisters school-based mentoring program. Once a week, they meet at Miller Middle School where Israel is a seventh grader, and play games.

Statistics show when children have positive role models in their lives, they are more likely to contribute positively to society. The Heart of Iowa Big Brothers Big Sisters organization is on a mission to match every youth in need of this special attention. In recognition of National Mentoring Month, the Times-Republican shares the bonding experience of a local “big” and “little.”

Midway through his fifth grade year, Israel Cervantes, 12, got matched with Joey Pittman, 20. The pair meets weekly at Miller Middle School, where Israel is a seventh grader, as part of BBBS’s school-based mentoring program.

“I had a mentor when I was in elementary school, and he really helped me,” Pittman said. “My girlfriend encouraged me to sign up with Big Brothers Big Sisters. I like working with kids. I hope to later earn a degree in special education from UNI.”

One of the main reasons people say they choose not to sign up to become a mentor, is the worry that it will take up too much time. Pittman leads a busy life, balancing job obligations with attending Marshalltown Community College full-time, where he is earning his Associate of Arts degree. But he finds the time to mentor Israel for about an hour each week. When he arrives at MMS, Pittman takes Israel out of class and then the two head to a conference room to play games.

“I like to play Uno, because it’s fun,” Israel said.

As they sit across from each other, engrossed in the game, they make small talk, and observe who seems to be winning the game. There’s always a lot of laughter.

“We really don’t talk about school or homework,” Pittman said.

School isn’t Israel’s favorite place to be, but Pittman tries to instill in him the value of learning.

“I like to talk about inventing stuff,” Israel said. “It just sounds interesting to make stuff that would help people.”

Sometimes they get to meet outside of the school. One of their favorite bonding experiences was attending a hockey game.

“We had a pretty good time,” Pittman said.

“For people who feel like they want to make a difference in the world or make an impact, I tell them become a mentor, and you will impact a child’s future,” said BBBS Executive Director, Lynne Carroll. “We never run out of kids who need a mentor. In December 2016, for instance, we had six new applications come in of kids looking for mentors.”

To become a school-based mentor, applicants must be 16 years old or older, and 18 or older for the community-based program. Those interested undergo a background check and must provide references.

To apply to be a mentor or to sign up a child, contact the Heart of Iowa Big Brothers Big Sisters Marshalltown office at 641-753-6370.