November 12, 2003

How You Can Make a Difference

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Most of us at Cornell come from two-parent homes. We fondly remember mom and dad as the people who call us every Sunday night, and before that the people who clothed, fed, and provided for us during the first 18 years of our lives. They helped us settle here at Cornell, and will be there smiling for us on graduation day.

But not every child is so lucky. Not every story is so happy.

In this very community there is a boy who ties his own shoes, buttons his own coat and goes to school like all the rest of us. This boy, however, is not as fortunate as most of us at Cornell. When he gets off the school bus every day, he has no father to help him confront the trials and tribulations of elementary school. There is no one to play catch with, no one to teach him checkers, and no one to tell him about girls. His name is Tyler, and he lives in a single-parent home.

About a year and a half ago, however, things changed for Tyler. Around that time he started the Ithaca Big Brothers Big Sisters program. Around that time he met Ed.

“On the first day he was begging to go home,” remembered Ed, a junior at Cornell and a volunteer with the Ithaca Big Siblings program. “He was very apprehensive and didn’t care much about hanging out with the other kids.”

But over time that changed. As Ed and Tyler interacted, Tyler became more sure of himself and more extroverted. Tyler’s also been working on his jump shot. He may not be Carmelo Anthony or LeBron James just yet, but as Ed will tell you, Tyler’s pretty good at HORSE — the playground classic throughout the world. In the process he’s also made friends and had fun.

“Now at the end of the day he’s begging not to go home,” Ed noted.

For me at least, my dad was always there getting me involved in sports. First it was t-ball, then soccer. Somewhere around third grade, when they let kids pitch and I got hit twice in the same game, I gave up on little league. But it didn’t matter, my dad was still there for me. He attended my concerts instead, and came to my track meets.

Of course, Ed is not Tyler’s father. He is, however, a positive male role model and someone Tyler can look up to. That’s really the important thing.

“Every child is different and every child has different needs, the thing that I like to remind people is that all of us have mentors and all of us have needs,” said program director John Bailey. “We find them in teachers, we find them in coaches, we find them in the neighborhoods.”

Sometimes, we also cannot find enough. The Big Brothers Big Sisters program of Ithaca is still in need of big siblings. Even more so, the program is in need of funding. Sheltered under the Ithaca Youth Bureau’s wide range of activities, the mentoring program and others have been subject to cuts in county and city aid.

But you can help.

P Diddy ran the city for little kids, while Ed just volunteers his Saturdays. Even some of the most time-challenged individuals on our campus — like football team captain Kevin Rooney — volunteer with the program and mentor area youths.

As for those of you who don’t have the gumption to train for a 26-mile race, or the time to be a mentor, you can still help. The Big Brothers and Big Sisters of Cornell are sponsoring a basketball tournament next weekend, Nov. 22. Registration is online and painless at their website (, and the event will only take a few hours of your time. Best of all, you’ll actually be able to meet the kids you’re helping.

“The difference between children in our programs and other kids is that they’re not getting connected with adults outside their family,” said Bailey.

Next weekend, however, the difference could be students at Cornell. Tyler and Ed will be there. Will you?

Archived article by Matt Janiga