Updated: Oct 31, 2019
Iowa City, IA – Shaded by a summer of idle time, at-risk youth have an opportunity to engage in educational, social, and community service programs sponsored by Big Brothers Big Sisters on Johnson County. Bigs are taking the chance of building relationships with at-risk Littles. Volunteers believe a little goodwill is a big deal.
On May 3, Big Brothers Big Sisters of Johnson County partnered up with The Dream Center for the grand opening of their Iowa City facility. The Dream Center is an organization, founded on May 30 2012 by Frederick Newell, that helps to strengthen the relationships of families by concentrating on getting fathers and young people involved through support, advocacy and community connections.
Big Brothers Big Sisters and The Dream Center collaborated to create B.A.M. (Brothers Achieving Manhood). “The idea was that the boys in the group would be matched with male mentor.
Fred was already connected with boys who could benefit from the group, said Jill Kromminga (Program Director). The Dream Center had adolescent boys and Big Brothers Big Sisters had mentors to pair with them. According to Jill, the collaboration came together organically.
Jill Kromminga has been working for Big Brothers Big Sisters of Johnson County since 1982. In over 30 years of being on the job, she has seen Bigs matched with Littles at 8 years old and their relationship maintains intact long after the men tee graduates from college.
One of the reasons why Frederick Newell established The Dream Center was due to the lack of fathers in the lives of African American and Hispanic young men.
“About two years ago, I piloted a program with the intentions of mentoring about eight students, but it ended up being about 48 students over a summer,” said Frederick Newell. Academic support, character development, and leadership skills became the focal services of The Dream Center.
“During the summer months, when kids are out of school, this is like a second home for a lot of kids. Having a place to come for comfort and support makes this another family for the kids,” said Royceann Porter (Family Service Coordinator of Family To Family Partnership Program).
Frederick Newell noticed the majority of young men in his program used anger as a common expression. He observed aggressive boys who didn’t have role models in their lives to teach them how to become young men.
With overwhelming support from community member and The Kingdom Center Church, Frederick reached out to men in the community who could father these young people and he ask for their unwavering involvement in their lives.
The Fatherhood Academy was created from this alliance. The purpose of the Fatherhood Academy is to provide access to individual and group counseling session for father needing to address parenting issues such as adapting to fatherhood, handling environmental stress (family, work, neighborhood), anger management, coping with grief, and controlling their emotions.
Big Brothers Big Sisters has a shortage of African American mentors. They recognize their engagement strategy doesn’t reflect the changing demographic of the Iowa City community.
Most of their minority mentors come by referral from local churches and community organizations. “We need more black men mentors, which is why collaborating with Frederick and The Dream Center was important to us,” said Amanda Remington (BBBS School-Based Mentoring Specialist).
Bigs don’t mentor Littles in groups because their focus is to provide one to one mentoring; explained Jill.
Being a Big requires a commitment of more than two hours per week for six months. Mentees need someone they can trust and build a meaningful relationship with for over a year.
“We don’t ask upfront for a 12 year commitment. That would probably scare volunteers away, but we do like, at-least, a minimum of one year to 18 months,” said Amanda. According to Big Brothers Big Sisters of Johnson County, this program services over 500 young people each year.
“One way of teaching young boys how to become young men is to assignment reading for the week that will be discussed during our Thursday 5pm meeting at the center,” said mentor Gibril Mansaray.
According to Mr. Mansaray, these young men need to improve their reading skills, while learning to make rationally responsible decision. Having never had positive role models in their lives, these at-risk youth benefit from the lessons taught during the weekly session .
“There are a lot of kids who really need somebody. We need more people to step up, Said Jill Kromminga. Mentors are encouraged to reach out to people who could be great matches for the program.
For more information about how to get involved with The Dream Center & Big Brothers Big Sisters visit: