In the wake of the recent tragedy at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla., I have reflected specifically on how I can make an impact to change the “what ifs.” What if warning signs were caught prior to the shooting? What if there were stricter gun laws? What if the FBI would have acted on the lead?
But I thought most notably, what if the shooter had a mentor that could have helped keep him in school and deal with the grief of losing his parents? Could that have prevented the loss of the seventeen precious lives at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School?
As a Big Brother in the Big Brothers Big Sisters program, I see firsthand how mentoring positively affects the lives of at-risk youth. Nearly all the children served by the organization are in single-parent and low-income families or households, and many are in a situation where a parent is either incarcerated or has passed away. This program is designed to help at risk adolescents grow positively and teach them to recognize and avoid adverse situations. National data is clear that mentoring stops crime before it happens.
In spite of its proven effectiveness, the State of Florida continues to drastically slash funding for mentoring programs. Funding dropped from $23,058,720 in 2014 to $8,897,988 in 2017. According to proposed Senate and House budgets, that amount is slated to stay below $9,000,000 in 2018. We need to demand that our leaders of the House and the Senate reinstate the funding for the mentorship programs. They need to give us the opportunity to save kids from future incidents with a focus on mentorship, a non-partisan approach to helping at-risk kids that produces consistently provable, positive results.
We will never know if increased mentorship opportunities could have prevented this mass shooting. But we do know there are thousands of at-risk youth on waiting lists to obtain mentors, and these at-risk youth need mentors to help them grow in a positive way. Every metric of measurement demonstrates that providing guidance to at-risk children through mentoring improves their life outcomes, and, by extension, the lives of their communities.
Mentorship of at-risk youth is not a partisan issue. It’s not a fiscal issue. It’s a humanity issue. Let’s do what we can to make sure Big Brothers Big Sisters and other essential mentoring programs receive support from the state to help ensure that at-risk youth are not forgotten. Let’s do everything that we can to make sure a tragedy like this doesn’t happen again in our backyard.
Chad Van Horn, Esq., is a bankruptcy attorney in Fort Lauderdale, a member of the Big Brothers Big Sisters of Broward County board of directors. In 2017, he was named Big Brother of the Year out of 15,000 mentors in the state of Florida by the Big Brothers Big Sisters organization.
Written by 2017 Big Brother of the Year for Florida, Chad Van Horn.
As seen on Sun-Sentinel’s Website: http://www.sun-sentinel.com/opinion/commentary/fl-op-viewpoint-mentorship-youth-mass-shootings-20180222-story.html