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Today's Family Magazine

Become a mentor to a local youth today!

By Deanna Adams

Patrick Dowd has always remembered the story of his grandfather, one of five boys, growing up during the Depression without a father.  “Despite that hardship, they all had positive influences, and that made all the difference.  Every one of them turned out having wonderful family lives.”

That family story impacted Dowd’s approach to fatherhood when he had his own three sons to raise.  And once they were ready to leave home for college, the Concord man felt he wasn’t quite done being a good role model.  When he read an article about Big Brothers Big Sisters of Northeast Ohio (now Torchlight Youth Mentoring Alliance), he decided he wanted to get involved. “I talked to my wife about it and she said, go for it,” recalls Dowd, 59, who works for Sequoia Realty Corp. a commercial realty company in Lake County.

“I contacted the agency and went through the protocol, which includes a background check.  Once accepted, they asked me to choose one of their candidates, but I said no.  I trusted them to decide the right match for me.”

That was eight years ago and he agrees the agency provided the perfect match.  “It didn’t take long for Ayden and I to hit it off,” Dowd says. “I still remember the day we met.  He was just this shy, little 7-year-old kid with a literal bowl cut, the blonde bangs hanging on his forehead,” he says with a laugh. “Now everyone in my immediate family knows him well and it has expanded our large unit.”

“Since Ayden’s birth, it has always been just me and him,” says the boy’s mother, Heidi.  “I wanted him to have a man around who could do all those things guys do together.  It was important to me to give him that. I’m so glad I found out about this wonderful organization.”

That organization has orchestrated thousands of nourishing relationships in northeast Ohio alone.  And despite the name change, it preserves the mission to foster the development of youth, and now, even more so with additional programs available. “BBBS is a wonderful mentoring program, but it’s limited to the traditional matching program,” says Donna Bares, community relations coordinator.  “There are many other needs in the community, so we have broadened our resources considerably.”

The terms 'bigs' and 'littles' are now called 'mentors' and 'mentees,' but the goal remains the same.  The mentor spends quality time with the mentee a couple of hours each month to fill a void, enrich their lives, and in many cases, build a lasting friendship.  Volunteers are encouraged to seek out activities that require little or no money, such as shooting hoops at a park, watching movies, playing video or board games, or simply sharing a pizza.

In Patrick and Ayden’s case, the two spend a lot of time outside. “Ayden’s an outdoorsy kid so we go to the park, the beach, camp.  He loves to swim and go kayaking.  We have a good time together,” Dowd says.

Ayden, who just turned 16, likes staying active.  He spent this summer as a lifeguard, and is very involved in the Boy Scouts, working towards becoming an Eagle Scout. And he especially likes Monday nights when he and Patrick volunteer for the meals ministry at St. Malachi in Cleveland.  “I help out doing odd jobs, whatever’s needed,” Ayden says.  “I enjoy preparing the sweets, making them look especially pretty.  Then afterwards, we eat pizza.  It’s always a lot of fun.”

“I’m so proud of him,” Dowd adds. “This young man has really applied himself.  He was recently accepted into the Project YESS program (Youth Empowered to Succeed through Sailing), sponsored by the Rotary Club of Cleveland, so he got to sail aboard a tall ship through the Great Lakes.  He also works hard to be a straight-A student.”

Ayden has had an influence on Dowd as well. “He’s definitely had an impact on my life,” he says.  “It’s been a huge benefit for my own personal growth and how I live.  I’ve been blessed with a wonderful family, friends, career and health, with a strong will to give back, and to have this kind of bond with him is very special.”

“I’m very grateful to Pat,” Heidi says.  “He is so involved in my son’s life.  I’ll never forget one Christmas, going to his house and there on the family’s big beautiful tree were all the ornaments Ayden had made for him.  It brought tears to my eyes.”

“The thing about Patrick is that I can always count on him,” Ayden adds.  “He’s been there through good times and challenging times, and attends all my events.  I feel real lucky to have him in my life.”

Want to make a difference in a child’s life?  If you, or someone you know, is interested in becoming a mentor, learn more about the program at  Currently, the organization has 30 children, ages 6–15, on their waiting list.  They are in most need of male volunteers.

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