PORT TOWNSEND — In the fall of 2008, Bob Balck was eating dinner at a Mexican restaurant when he noticed a woman and a girl making the rounds of the tables chatting to people.
When they came to his table, the woman, Joyce Zodiaco, told him that the restaurant was supporting a mentoring program by donating a percentage of that night’s take, then introduced her mentoree, Alex.
Impressed by the pair, who had the whole restaurant laughing with their stories, Balck wanted to know more.
“They told me all about it and answered all my questions,” Balck said.
The encounter made Balck a believer in the mentoring program, then sponsored by Big Brothers/Big Sisters of Puget Sound.
But when he returned from this year’s winter sojourn in the south, he learned that the organization was no longer funding it in Jefferson County.
Running into a friend, Bill James, who was forming a local group to fill the gap, Balck was asked to join and accepted.
“Ninety-nine percent of people would have let it fail,” Balck said. “The kids are the ones who benefit.”
Benefit on Wednesday
On Wednesday, Balck and other volunteers will be at area restaurants to promote Building Futures, a YMCA program that took over management of more than 50 school-based mentor/student matches.
By eating at restaurants donating a percentage of the proceeds to the “Night Out for Kids” fundraiser, people in the community can help them sustain a mentoring program that delivers a big impact.
“Children who have mentors are 97 percent less likely to be in the juvenile justice system,” James said, citing a national study.
“Our board thought it was too important a program to let go.”
The board includes Carol Aldrich, who knows from experience the difference a mentor can make in a child’s life.
She first volunteered 15 years ago, she said, when the Big Sister/Big Brother program started in Jefferson County.
It disappeared two years later, but Aldrich continued to stay in touch with her assigned student, who stayed on track with her education while other girls in her class did not.
“She is 25 now and has a master’s degree and is a teacher,” Aldrich said.
According to the national study that tracked participants into adulthood, children who have mentors are more successful in life, James said.
The study also showed they are less likely to skip school, use drugs or resort to violence.
Of the children in Jefferson County served by the mentoring program this year, 83 percent are living in poverty, James said, citing a local study, and 69 percent live in a single-parent home.
But when Terry Wagner called the local BB/BS office and ask to apply as a mentor, she was told that they were not making any more matches.
Asking how she could help, she was referred to the advisory board.
Angelyn Redstone was driving to town on Sims Way when she saw the “closed” sign on the BB/BS office, and thought, “That’s terrible.”
Involved in social service and education through her career, she heard that a new group was forming and volunteered to be on the board.
“In my life, I have formally and informally mentored children,” Redstone said. “I am a great believer in the process.”
Jamie Bima also is a strong supporter, having mentored children in California.
Named the National Big Sister of the Year in 1988, she said she was devastated when she heard the organization was no longer able to fund the office that served Jefferson County.
That left both the school-based matches in Port Townsend and Chimacum, which draw on high school students for mentors, and the community matches in jeopardy.
“I jumped in with everyone here who said we’re not going to let this happen,” Bima said.
“We’re not going to let this program die and leave these children in the lurch.”
YMCA steps in
Told that if they came up with an organization, they could apply for funding for the city, the volunteers found a new identity with the YMCA, which had a mentoring program, Building Futures.
Applying to the city, the group was told the program will receive $20,000, half of the budget they need to survive.
Kim Hammers and Jay Cacka, formerly full-time BB/BS staff, agreed to cut back to half-time jobs, relocating to the YMCA office in the portable facing the Mountain View Commons courtyard.
James, who lives on Discovery Bay, also volunteers for Olympic Community Action Programs, spending one afternoon a week interviewing people who are seeking help from the Peninsula Daily News Home Fund.
He volunteered as a mentor 20 years ago when he lived in Arizona.
“The question is whether you’re going to spend money on the prevention or the cure,” James said.
“For a relatively small cost up front, we can save the millions of dollars it cost to put people in prison.”
Restaurants in Port Townsend, Port Hadlock and Port Ludlow are participating in “Night Out for Kids,” by donating 20 percent of their take during designated hours this Wednesday, some during the day and others in the evening.
Restaurants and hours are listed on www.bf.jeffymca.org.
In Port Townsend, the list includes Elevated Ice Cream, Bub’s Taco, Jordini’s, the Pizza Factory, Water Street Creperie, Sirens Pub, The Bayview, The Belmont, Ichikawa, Khu Larb Thai, T’s and Castle Key Seafood and Steak.
In Port Hadlock, On Common Grounds, Ferino’s Pizza, Valley Tavern and the Ajax Cafe are participating, as is The Fireside in the Inn at Port Ludlow.
Contributions, marked “Building Futures,” also can be mailed to Jefferson County Family YMCA, P.O. Box 1637, Port Townsend, WA 98368.
For more information, phone 360-774-6342 or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.
Port Townsend/Jefferson County reporter-columnist Jennifer Jackson can be reached at email@example.com.