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Big Brothers Big Sisters to honor role models

By Jason A. Smith

jsmith@henryherald.com

Big Brothers Big Sisters of Metro Atlanta is in the midst of a first-time endeavor designed to reward individuals who have made a positive difference in the lives of young people.

The non-profit organization launched, at the beginning of July, a search for "Atlanta's Biggest Role Models."

Meghann Goddard, a member of the youth-mentoring group's public relations team, said Big Brothers Big Sisters wants to honor volunteers, because of the impact they have on the lives of others. She added that nominations are not limited to individuals with direct ties to the organization.

"They're looking for individuals who have volunteered their time to improve the lives of metro Atlanta youth," said Goddard. "It doesn't have to be a volunteer from Big Brothers Big Sisters. It can be anybody who has motivated ... youth, served as a role model, or offered friendship and support."

Brent Johnson, of Riverdale, has been volunteering as a Big Brother to 9-year-old Clayton County resident, Keon Freeman. Johnson, a personal banker at Wachovia, said the organization allows him to assist in improving the lives of young black men.

"With Big Brothers Big Sisters, they have trouble finding African-American men to mentor African-American young boys," said Johnson, 27. "Also, there's a lack of African-American men in the home, in general ... So, I felt like I would be needed in that capacity."

Big Brothers Big Sisters' Atlanta affiliate for its national organization, operates in Henry, Clayton, Cherokee, Cobb, Paulding, Douglas, Fulton, Gwinnett, DeKalb, Fayette, Butts and Rockdale counties. It serves more than 3,200 children each year, according to a written statement issued by the group July 9.

Linda Mitchell, of McDonough, works as an executive assistant to the organization's chief executive officer, Janice McKenzie-Crayton. Mitchell has seen "a lot of progress" in Big Brothers Big Sisters' impact, since joining the group nine years ago.

"We have probably doubled the number of children we serve, since I've been here," she said. Mitchell added that programs have expanded in recent years, to reach the Atlanta area's Hispanic population, college-bound students, and children of incarcerated parents.

Big Brothers Big Sisters, she said, is working to increase its influence in Henry.

"There are plans to expand our footprint into the outlying counties and communities, outside Atlanta," Mitchell said. "Henry County is part of the strategy to reach those areas."

The recognition project is being conducted in conjunction with the organization's 50th anniversary in Atlanta this year, according to McKenzie-Crayton. In the July 9 statement, she said the organization is "proud" to launch the program.

"Every day, Big Brothers Big Sisters of Metro Atlanta encounters, and works with, unsung heroes -- men and women who go the extra mile to ensure the best for our local youth," McKenzie-Crayton wrote. "[The program is a] way of honoring the big role that every-day individuals play in making our community better."

David Samuel, executive vice president for the Atlanta group, said the search enables Big Brothers Big Sisters to educate the public regarding the generosity of local volunteers. "It's an opportunity to make sure our story is heard," Samuel said. "We work with people all the time, who don't get a lot of recognition. We felt like this would be a good time to acknowledge them. We're asking people to look within their worlds, to help us identify these role models."

Honorees will be announced Sept. 11, at Big Brothers Big Sisters' annual Legacy Awards Gala. Nominations, including a description of an individual's commitment to youth and volunteer activities, must be sent to biggestrolemodel@bbbsatl.org. Two entries will be selected for awards, according to the organization's officials.

For more information on Big Brothers Big Sisters, visit www.BBBSatl.org.