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Today's Family Magazine

Volunteer to be a mentor

Oct 17, 2016 10:49AM ● By Today's Family
By Deanna R. Adams

When Alonzo Blackwell was 12 years old, his father left the family, and Alonzo was suddenly without an active dad in his life.  “But I was lucky,” he says, “in the sense that I did have a couple of male role models who looked out for me and would give me advice on things I needed to know.”

Blackwell feels there are far too many young men who are not as fortunate as he was growing up.  Those who lack a true male role model in their lives.  “A lot of young boys are missing that, and I know how important it is to have someone there to guide these kids.”

Because of that, he always wanted to do something to give back, but for years he was busy raising his own family.  During that time, he also became guardian to his nephew when his sister was unable to take care of him.  Finally, in 2008, Blackwell, 52, who works at University Hospitals in Cleveland, found the opportunity to make use of all his parenting experience and become a mentor.

“I went to see a show at Tri-C and Big Brothers Big Sisters was recruiting there and I signed right up.”

It was good timing.  His oldest child, 34, had long been on his own, and his youngest, 18, had just left for Ohio State.  Since then, the Maple Heights resident has had the privilege to mentor several young men.

Big Brothers Big Sisters is a national organization that provides children with quality mentoring relationships through supportive adults and educational programs.  As a mentor and role model, being a “Big” can help fill a needed void in a child’s life.

Tameeka, a hard-working single mother of three, learned about the program through her children’s school.  “I thought it was a great idea, and my son, Donnell, was getting at that age where I felt he needed a good male figure in his life. I wanted someone intelligent and kind to guide him.”

Last year, Donnell, now 12, met Alonzo and they became fast friends.
“I’ve had a few Littles before,” Blackwell says. “The last one was very shy, it took some time for him to open up.  But not so with Donnell,” he laughs.  “We hit it off right away.  This guy is always full of questions.  He’s very inquisitive.”

Donnell thinks his Big is pretty cool, too.  “He’s funny, and nice,” he says.  “I like when we go to the movies and play games.”

One of the first things volunteers learn about the Big Brothers Big Sisters program is that you don’t have to spend a lot of money to have fun with the kids.  Activities can include the simple things in life, such as visiting a park, playing a board game, taking walks or bike rides, shooting hoops, or sharing a pizza.  It is the quality time spent together that’s important.  And common interests.

With Donnell, those interests change often, says his mother.  “One day he wants to be a truck driver, the next a policemen, or maybe a basketball player.”
Blackwell concurs.  “He’s always changing his mind, but I think that’s a good thing.  He’s thinking about his future.”

The two buddies have sports in common, so they often attend Cavs, Indians, and Browns games.  Or sometimes, they simply hang out at Blackwell’s home.  “I have a grandson about his age,” he says.  “So he and Donnell often play games together.  We only live about twenty minutes away from each other, so we try and get together as often as time allows.”

He adds that Donnell is inspiring for his age.  “He really wants to succeed in life.  It’s important to him to do well in school because he realizes it will benefit him in the future.  I think it’s great that he’s considering all kinds of options of what he wants to do.  He’s only 12, so he has lots of time to narrow it down.”

For now, the two have big plans for the near future.  “I recently won pre-season Cavs tickets, so we’ll definitely be doing that!”

Blackwell encourages other adults to join the program.  “I’m having such fun with being a mentor, the time has flown by.  Plus, it feels great to do something that’s really important for someone else.”

The agency is always in need of more male volunteers.  For information about being a Big, visit  Or call 216-452-5216.  You can also email Samantha Holmes at [email protected]