‘A part of the family’

Big Brother Big Sister program matches adults to mentor youngsters
Jul. 22, 2013 @ 12:15 PM

Telajuwon Pride was 10 years old when he met his “Big Brother,” Jonas Monast.

In the more than six years since, the pair has eaten meals together, read books together, chopped wood together, grocery shopped together and helped build a house together.

Pride, now a 17-year-old senior at Hillside High School, even knew Monast before Monast met his wife.

“He had to approve of my wife before we ended up getting married,” Monast, the 41-year-old director of Duke’s Climate and Energy Program, said.

“Yeah, that’s so funny,” Pride said. “He told me that she was so nervous to meet me.”

In 2011, Pride spoke at Monast’s wedding, a moment Monast describes as, “letting all 200 of our closest family and friends know that Telajuwon was a part of the family.”

Big Brothers Big Sisters of the Triangle matches adult volunteers with children anywhere from 6 to 14-years old in Wake, Orange and Durham Counties. Children can remain in the program as “Littles,” mentored by “Bigs,” until they turn 18 or graduate from high school, said CEO Kim Breeden.

Pride’s mother signed him up for the program when he was in fifth grade.

“She wanted me to get out of the house and do something better with my life than sitting in the house and hanging out with my friends in my neighborhood,” Pride said.

Today, Pride says that Monast has helped him have a better life than he would have had if he’d never met him.

Facing pressures

Over the years, Pride has encountered different pressures: to drink, smoke and go to parties, and to join a gang.

“It’s been really rewarding watching (Pride) face some difficult choices and make the right ones,” Monast said. “And for me to be able to have his back and help him out when he’s struggling with things like that I think has been really rewarding for both of us.”

Monast said Pride has had a drastically different childhood than he did. He recalled how Pride used to act protective of him when they’d drive in Pride’s neighborhood, which felt like a role-reversal to Monast.

“I felt like the dudes that I see around the neighborhood, they could at any point try to rob (Monast) or take his car,” Pride recalled. “They didn’t care. They’d rob pizza men, ice cream trucks, and I witnessed that.”

Pride and Monast have met about once per week over the years. Sometimes they’d work on homework together. Other times they’d work on projects at Monast’s house.

Pride said that if he hadn’t started this relationship, he might have dropped out of school or made bad grades.

“One of my favorite memories was the first time that I saw Telajuwon take pride in his report card,” Monast said. “And he had a huge smile on his face.”

“I didn’t want (Monast) to feel like he was wasting his time by trying to help me and the work wasn’t paying out,” Pride said. “So, you know, why not just get up and stop being lazy and just put in more effort at school.”

Of the children who responded to A BBBST survey in 2012,  40 percent answered positively to improving grades, although only 21 percent answered positively to improving expectations of finishing college. Only 38 percent answered positively to improving risk attitudes, while 60 percent answered positively to improving social acceptance.

Pride shares some characteristics with the majority of Triangle Littles: He, like 74 percent, is African American. Like 80 percent, he comes from a single-parent home.

But Pride and Monast’s relationship has lasted longer than the average match-up. In the Triangle, the average partnership lasts 22 months, which Breeden takes as a good sign, considering only a year is required.

Youth at-risk

Elizabeth Lamb, of DurhamCares, a non-profit that studies Durham’s at-risk youth and other issues, said organizations like hers and BBBS try to influence the input in children’s lives in order to influence the output.

“Typically at-risk youth are on free and reduced lunch in Durham schools, they have an unstable home life, they often come from poverty and they just don’t have good mentors,” Lamb said. “We think there’s something that people can do to improve that situation.”

Breeden said BBBST plans to start helping children who are involved or have been involved in the juvenile justice system, and Durham is the target area for this plan.

According to the N. C.Division of Juvenile Justice, the delinquency rate per 1,000 juveniles aged 6 to 15 in Durham County in 2012 was 27.4, versus 13.4 in Wake and 13.2 in Orange.

Of the 15 reported homicides in Durham through Wednesday this year, six victims were under 25 years old, and the youngest was 17 years old, said Kammie Michael of the Durham Police Department. Six arrested suspects were also under 25, and the youngest is 18.

 “I think we want to be careful to not say every person who’s committed a homicide was an at-risk youth,” Lamb said, “but the earlier you can influence someone’s life, the better of an outcome you should have.”

Looking forward

Pride wants to attend college, for either math or communications, a subject he’s had experience with while speaking about the BBBS program in forums with Monast.

“I’ve been told that I’m good with talking to people…Well, (Monast) told me that, so if he said it, then I believe it,” Pride said.

After graduation, he and Monast plan to visit New York City, where Pride has never been but always wanted to go. Pride will no longer be in the BBBS program, but he said he wants to keep seeing Monast.

“I don’t want to stop hanging out with him,” Pride said. “I’d love to continue to hang out with him after that.”

“Yeah,” Monast responded. “Telajuwon’s part of the family now. I joke that he couldn’t get rid of us if he wanted to.”