Jordan Hendricks is 12 years old, and Alberto Gomez, his “big brother,” is 38. They have been friends for four years since meeting through the Big Brothers Big Sisters of Cape Cod & the Islands mentorship program.
After lengthy background checks (“very, very thorough!” said Alberto), Big Brothers Big Sisters arranges and supports one-to-one matches between caring adult volunteers called “Bigs” and children from under-resourced families called “Littles,” regardless of size. This year alone, BBBS, supported in part by a $5,000 grant from The Falmouth Fund of The Cape Cod Foundation, is serving more than 400 children on Cape Cod and Martha’s Vineyard, nearly 50 of them, including Jordan, in Falmouth.
“Over the past five years, The Falmouth Fund has supported our strategic growth initiative that sought to double our service to youth across Cape Cod,” said JR Mell, regional director for BBBS. A two-time Big Brother, he is a Mashpee resident and a lifelong Cape Codder. “We had a goal of growing the number of youth served in Falmouth from the low 20s to 50. Despite a global pandemic, we were able to nearly achieve that goal. But we still have an extraordinary need for more male volunteers. All but one of the 15 Falmouth children waiting for a mentor are boys.”
Sharon Nunes, chairwoman of The Falmouth Fund, explained the fund’s support: “We were impressed with the professionalism of the BBBS staff, enthusiastic and experienced leadership, and its emphasis on increasing the number of Falmouth children involved in the program.”
Alberto, who lives in Cataumet, has four children of his own and a busy job with Barrett Plumbing and Heating in Falmouth. Asked why he applied to be a BBBS volunteer mentor, he answered, “I was new to the Cape, and I felt pretty lucky, so I wanted to do more than just my job; I wanted to give back, to help out my community. It seemed like this program was doing something good for kids.”
It does. Ask Jordan’s mother, Meghan Jackson. She had contacted BBBS because Jordan’s father was not available. “Jordan is a lovable kid who needed a male role model, and he found an amazing one,” she said. “Alberto was there when my son really, really needed him. He gives Jordan advice and encourages him to be responsible. He’s not at all judgmental. Jordan can tell him anything.”
Once BBBS arranges a match, it supports it with weekly checks and on-call staff. Alberto’s staff contact is Samantha Phillips. “We have scheduled talks, but I can also email her or call anytime if I have a question,” said Alberto. “She listens and follows up on ideas and conversations.”
Samantha helped Alberto understand that although there is a 26-year age gap, his role is to be Jordan’s friend, not a paternal figure and not a dad. “It’s not a mentor’s job to worry if his Little spills ketchup all over his shirt!” Alberto said.
During the pandemic, BBBS has stayed in touch with its mentors, emailing COVID-19 guidelines and suggestions for things Bigs and Littles might do to maintain their relationship under the difficulties of quarantine and restrictions.
Jordan and Alberto usually see each other twice a month and text each other between visits. They used to bowl and go to Red Sox games. Jordan taught Alberto to fish. Now they play basketball outside (and do not agree on who is the better player!) or may go for pizza. Alberto has been at Jordan’s birthday parties and saw him on Christmas day. They wear masks.
“Jordan is an active, athletic boy and stays in touch with his friends, but he still seems glad for us to get together,” said Alberto.
It looks that way; they are easy with each other. “I’m glad to have someone to talk to,” Jordan said.
“This works great with my kids, too,” said Alberto. “They like Jordan and like to be with him, but they understand that I also want some one-on-one time with him.”
The BBBS initial matches are for one year, Mr. Mell said. “We enroll children between the ages of 7 and 12, and once matched with a mentor, they are able to stay in our program until their match no longer needs support from our agency. Many Littles will graduate our program when they enter their teen years or high school, although we do have some matches that stay through college.”
But as far as Alberto is concerned, he and Jordan are friends forever: “Program or no program, I’m not going anywhere. We’ll stay in touch. I’ve been so, so lucky to have the opportunity to be part of Jordan’s life: he’s just a wonderful kid.”
Big Brothers Big Sisters, which has a real and present need for adult male volunteers, can be reached at 508-771-5150 or www.capebigs.org.
Established in 2009, The Falmouth Fund of The Cape Cod Foundation has awarded more than $718,000 in grants to more than 80 nonprofits that benefit the Falmouth community.