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Programs push to put the 'men' back in mentoring 
Big Brother Mike Wolf, left, learns how to solve a seven-by-seven Rubik's Cube from Little Brother Michael Marmion on Feb. 23, 2015, at the Big Brothers Big Sisters office in Bloomington.

BLOOMINGTON — Ninety-two children in McLean county are waiting for a mentor to step into their lives, and most are boys, according to the Big Brothers Big Sisters of McLean county.

That's why that organization, the Boys & Girls Club of Bloomington-Normal and Promise Council are reaching out to men in the community to clear the waiting list.

"For the school-based program, it's a one-hour, once-a-week commitment during the school year," said Jordan Cobbs, a 25-year-old mentor and case manager for Big Brothers Big Sisters. "Once you get to know the child, it doesn't feel like some huge time commitment."

Cobbs, of Bloomington, has mentored the same child through Big Brothers Big Sisters for six years.

"I’m there for her. I hold her accountable for her schoolwork. We've had a relationship long enough that we can have serious conversations," said Cobbs.

In honor of January being National Mentoring Month, the agencies are launching a campaign with the slogan, “Put the ‘Men’ Back in Mentoring.”

Big Brothers Big Sisters matches each child (or “little”) facing adversity with a caring adult mentor (or “big”) who spend personal time with them. It may involve helping with homework, playing games, sharing a meal or seeing a movie.

Most littles live in single-parent homes, need extra help with schoolwork or may have some behavioral issues.

“A lot of the boys just don’t have a male mentor in their life and they need that extra guidance from a man that mom just can’t provide,” said Chantel Thompson, program director of Big Brothers Big Sisters of McLean County.

Interested mentors can apply at . Once the application is reviewed and a background check and reference list is addressed, the big is interviewed and paired with a little.

Alton branch of Boys and Girls Club continues growth trend

The Alton branch of the Boys and Girls Club was formed in 1990 as a way to reach young people in need and help them attain their full potential.

In the last 25 years, the organization has grown in size, scope and ambition.

“I want to commend our community,” Executive Director Al Womack said. “We would not be able to provide stability and instruction for these kids if not for the support of our community.

“We also have a terrific staff. We have paid program staff of about 12-17 people in any given year who also serve as mentors, and we run about 60 volunteers in a year.”

The group’s clubhouse is located at 115 Jefferson Avenue, attached to the Catholic Children’s Home (but not affiliated to the home). With a healthy mix of boys and girls (75 percent from single parent homes, many of whom are underprivileged), the club promotes interaction and diversity, physical and emotional security in a fun environment, and provides mentors to let the kids know they are valued, important and vital to the community.

“We also have a ‘power hour,’ where we assist with homework for one hour a day,” Womack said. “We hired some tutors, and it is really paying off when it comes to grades.”

The nationwide Boys and Girls Club of America organization was formed in 1860 to provide after-school programs for young people. Known as the Boys’ Clubs of America, it expanded to include girls as well in 1990. As of 2012, it has over 4,000 autonomous clubs throughout the country, servicing over 4 million children.

While primarily serving the Alton Community School District #11, the Alton club is not limited to that region and often reaches beyond those borders to work with kids from other areas, as long as they are between the ages of 6 and 18 and enrolled in school.

Programs include character and leadership development, education and career training (along with a computer center available for use), health and life skills, sports and fitness (with a gymnasium equipped for basketball, dodge ball, volleyball, kickball and more) and the Arts.

An annual membership fee of $10 includes all of the programs and services.

Many of the area’s most vital education leaders have served as president of the Boys and Girls Club over the years, including David Bartosiak, Jeanne Wuellner, Andy Scanlon and David Hayes. Dr. Ken Spells currently serves as president.

In 2015, the club has seen a nearly 15 percent increase in its membership (currently at approximately 1300 children) along with a 33 percent increase in daily attendance.

According to the club, children who participate are half as likely to use cigarettes and alcohol and three times less likely to become teen parents. Womack attributes these successes to a continual focus on the mission.

“I think people have more understanding of what we do, and we also …

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