Student Athletes Mentor Local Kids

By Joseph Chapman

This semester, Youngstown State University Athletics partnered with Big Brothers Big Sisters of Mahoning Valley and the Youngstown Community Initiative to Reduce Violence through a mentorship program. Athletes across all sports at YSU joined the program to share knowledge with local children.

Antoine Cook, junior psychology major and defensive end for the football team, talked about the impact his mentees have on him.

 “Learning from what they go through and what they came from is just such a humbling experience for myself,” he said. “Keeping me sane and helping me understand that life is short and to appreciate every little moment and every little thing. Other people’s lives could be for worse or better, it doesn’t matter, you still want to brighten someone’s day.”

Cook also encouraged more people to become mentors. 

 “How you became who you are now, can be another benefit towards another person. You got to let everybody know your story. So I try my best to let people know where I came from. How I grew up. Just sort of showed the [mentee that] this is a person that actually overcame so much adversity,” Cook said.

Antoine Cook, junior psychology major and defensive end for the football team, described his experience as an athlete mentor as humbling and inspiring. Photo courtesy of YSU Sports

Tim Johnson, director of player personnel for YSU Football, talked about the positive mentality of the players who volunteer. 

“Most of the kids that if not all of the kids on the football team that volunteers are aware on how to be selfless. And I don’t think that they’re doing it to be superheroes. I don’t think they’re doing it for the attention,” he said. “They all went over there [thinking], ‘Where are the youth? Where are the kids?  I want a kid that I can help in these times.’ We got a lot of selfless guys who really do give their time and their energy to something that’s greater than them. And my hat’s off to him for being selfless.”

Johnson also discussed how they would like to move the mentorship program online due to the pandemic. Mentors and mentees will be able to meet on Zoom and Webex. Virtual matching will also be added. 

Looking to the spring semester and the potential for football to be played, Johnson said they plan to involve Little Brothers and Sisters in games to build and support the community. 

Brian Higgins, program director of Big Brothers Big Sisters of Mahoning Valley, talked about this program’s potential. 

“Using student athletes, they’re already mentors,” he said. “Once this pandemic is slowed down, this collaboration is going to explode. I just see the potential in so many different avenues.”

Higgins also discussed the time commitment involved in becoming a Big Brother or Sister. 

“What we like to stress is we’d love everybody to walk through these doors become a Big Brother [or a] Big Sister, but we also want you to know that it’s a commitment because we are putting you in a lot in the life of a child,” he said. “But if you’re willing to do that, I don’t know many other volunteer experiences where you can make that big of a change.” 

Those interested in becoming a mentor can call CIRV at 330-742-8778. Parents interested in getting their children involved can call Big Brothers Big Sisters of Mahoning Valley at 330-545-0002.