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Today's Family Magazine

Torchlight Youth Mentoring Alliance helps create lasting bonds

Dan Bialek, 40, of Chardon has been a mentor to Javier since he was 8 years old. They have developed a special bond and consider each other family. Contact Torchlight Youth Mentoring Alliance to start your journey of mentoring a child.

By Deanna Adams

In 2019, the Big Brothers Big Sisters organization in Painesville changed its name to Torchlight, and some wondered why.  “We really wanted to incorporate more fostering and group mentoring into our programs,” explains Torchlight program manager, Anna Marie Palmer.  “We wanted to broaden our resources and offer more activities to involve kids who might be left out otherwise.  And, despite the break during Covid, it’s been going great.”

The Torchlight Youth Mentoring Alliance organization has orchestrated thousands of nourishing relationships in northeast Ohio alone, and continues to preserve their mission to foster the development of youth with additional programs now available.  Since the name change, they have expanded to meet the ever-growing needs within the community and have helped more than 350 children in Ashtabula, Lake and Geauga counties.  Along with its traditional one-on-one mentoring, they offer other programs, such as the Foster Care Transition Program, After-School program, E-CITY (Entrepreneurship: Connecting, Inspiring and Teaching Youth), and the C.O.U.L. (Club of Unmatched Littles), where children waiting for their match participate in fun, staff-supervised events.

While the term, “bigs” and “littles” have changed to “mentors” and “mentees,” 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.  Volunteer mentors 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 with their chosen mentee. 

Dan Bialek, 40, from Chardon, had heard of the agency’s need for more adult male mentors.  “I always thought about getting involved,” he says.  “My wife and I had decided that we didn’t want to have children, even though we really like them.  I still wanted a child in my life and thought this might be a great solution.”

Still, he had been putting it off until something unexpected happened.  “One day in 2018, I had a lunch meeting with someone who happened to be on the board and we started talking and I finally got the ball rolling.”

After discussing it with his wife, he reached out to Palmer, who conducted the standard interview.  After questions on both sides, and a background check, they determined that Dan would make a good mentor.  He considered several on their waiting list of 30 boys, based on common interests, similar personalities, and close location to each other.  He chose to meet 8-year-old, Javier.

Javier’s father had died not long before and young Javier was struggling with not having a male role model in his life.  The two hit it off, not only because of their shared interests, but because they introduce each other to new ones. 

“At first, he was into video games and movies, so we just hung out and talked,” Dan recalls. “He wasn’t that into sports but when he learned that I was, he opened himself up to going to some games and now he really likes baseball.”  He adds that he recently signed up Javier to a baseball league this summer, a new experience for him.

“Dan and Javier have developed a special bond over the years,” says Palmer.  “They spend time together regularly and Javier and Dan consider each other family.  Dan is so proud of the young man he’s turning into and hopes their relationship lasts a lifetime.”

Dan is sure that it will.  “I’ve never try to be a dad substitute,” he says.  “I just try to be a good role model for him, and just be buddies.  The best thing he’s ever said to me was recently when I picked him up and he told me that he’d had a bad day.  Then he said, ‘Ya know, Dan, I don’t know what I’d do without you in my life.’  That felt great to hear, and believe me, it goes both ways.  I’ve had some stressful days myself and he always turns a bad day into a good one. He’s got the best sense of humor and we have some of the best laughs.”

Want to make a difference in a child’s life?  If you, or someone you know (all ages, 18 and over, are welcomed) is interested in becoming involved, there is always a great need for more mentors throughout the Lake/Geauga/Ashtabula county areas.  Currently, the organization has 30 children, ages 6–15, on their waiting list.  They are in most need of male volunteers.

The Torchlight Youth Mentoring Alliance is located at 8 N. State Street in Painesville.  Learn more about all their programs on their website, or call 440-352-2526.