Big Brothers Big Sisters of Greater Sacramento is planning to pair local at-risk children with mentors who work as law enforcement officers and first responders as a part of a program called 'Bigs with Badges.'
Bigs with Badges is a local component of a nationwide initiative from Big Brothers Big Sisters to foster trust between young people and law enforcement, said Tim Harris, a Big Brothers Big Sisters board member.
Frank Radoslovich, founder of Radoslovich Shapiro, PC Attorneys and a board member of the Sacramento chapter, helped fund the program with a $25,000 donation.
"I was one of those kids that had a really tough time as a teenager, a very difficult time when I was a teenager," said Radoslovich. "I ran away from home, slept in parks made juvenile choices like hitting a cop with a lemon and was even arrested. If it wasn't for someone who timely intervened in my life to mentor me I would have never finished school or law school for that matter and that was strictly by accident."
The program, planned since last year, officially launched Tuesday. Sacramento Mayor Darrell Steinberg said it could not have started at a better time.
Demonstrations have rocked the city since Stephon Clark, a 22-year-old unarmed black man, was shot and killed by police in south Sacramento in March.
Four cities are participating in the Bigs with Badges initiative: Sacramento, West Sacramento, Woodland and Rancho Cordova.
Along with Steinberg, the mayors of Ranch Cordova and Woodland and spokespeople from multiple law enforcement agencies in the Sacramento region enthusiastically endorsed the program and said they think it will foster better community relations and benefit both the kids and their mentors.
This isn't just an opportunity for youth to see officers in a different light, said Sacramento Police Captain Charles Husted.
"It's a huge opportunity for officer to see our youth in a different way, rather than getting called to a violent crime in progress or kids smoking marijuana in the park, or something like that," said Husted. "They get to see kids in a normal teenager, youth sort of way, and gets to break down those stereotypes."
Big Brothers Big Sisters serves youth between the ages of 8-18, with most of the children coming primarily from single-parent households, said Theresa Scherber, CEO of Big Brothers Big Sisters of Greater Sacramento. The organization also serves foster youth and children that are being raised by their grandparents and/or same-sex parents.
"The common theme with all the children we serve is that they've all endured just very challenging circumstances that can lead them down the wrong path in life if they didn't have the guidance of a trusted mentor," Scherber said.
Ninety-three percent of children in the program have said that having a mentor encourages them to make better choices in life and helps them to achieve their goals, said Scherber. Ninety-four percent of the participants have said that their mentor helped them believe they could go to college.
The organization serves the Sacramento, Placer and Yolo counties, said Scherber, and within these counties there are currently 100 youth who have qualified for the Big Brothers Big Sisters program who are waiting for mentors.
"We are so hopeful that this is going to be able to match many of those children that are waiting for their mentor,” she said.
This will help fund 300 matches this year, said Scherber, 50 more than they were able to do last year.
More than 70 percent of the children waiting for their mentor are boys, said Scherber, who could benefit from a program that teams up with law enforcement and first responders.
"There are lots of men in your profession that could be big brothers," said Scherber. "So we’re super thankful for that.”
Steinberg echoed these sentiments.
"The idea that you would match the men and women of law enforcement with little kids who need big brothers and big sisters, to me is profound,' said Steinberg. "It is profound and it is great and is something we need to foster."