Having lost contact with his father, Jamiu Kolawole was 14 when his mother signed him up for Big Brothers and Big Sisters of Chicago.
“He really ended up being someone who took me by the hand and showed me the ropes,” said Kolawole of his mentor, he referred to only as Jake. “He had a huge impact — he taught me that life can be so much more if you apply yourself.”
Today, the 34-year-old IT specialist is giving back as a big brother himself. He is matched with a 17-year-old Oak Park neighbor, Sam Costa.
They are one of nearly 2,000 mentoring pairs set up by the Big Brothers and Big Sisters of Chicago. The pair don’t see each other every day, but as Sam has hopped from one stage of life to the next during the last four years, Kolawole has remained a lingering presence.
“That’s our 100-year-old model, and in 50 years it will be the same: one mentor and one child, meeting at least a few times a month over the course of a few years,” said Jeremy Foster, senior vice president of the group. “It’s about the stability and consistency of having the same person in that child’s life saying,‘I’m here for you, and I care about your future.’”
It’s a formula, research has found, that has a dramatic effect on children’s lives.
A recent study found that kids who spent significant time with a big brother or big sister were 46 percent less likely to use illegal drugs than their counterparts, and 35 percent less likely to use violence against their peers.
“All the support in the world won’t make adolescence an easy time, but it’s so clear that they really enjoy each other’s company, and Jamiu’s always been there to help him through tough times,” said the boy’s mother, Jane Costa. “And right off the bat, the benefit was apparent in his confidence, his social skills — everything.”
Sam’s father died when he was age eight.
Sam, now a high school junior, plans to attend college “somewhere warm.”
Kolawole, who graduated from Southern Illinois University with a degree in information system technologies, recalled attending sporting events, theme parks and sometimes playing video games with his mentor.
He now does similar activities with Sam.
“He didn’t realize it, but Jake ended up having a huge impact on Sam, and on future generations, just by being there for me,” Kolawole said.
For more information on becoming a mentor, call Big Brothers and Sisters of Chicago at (312) 207-5600.
This is one in a series of articles being produced though a partnership between the Chicago Sun-Times and the Illinois Mentoring Partnership.
Alex Nitkin, the author of this story, is a Northwestern University student.