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UW-Madison student Alissa Small hits tennis balls against a wall earlier this year with her Big Brothers Big Sisters little brother, David Delyea, at Tenney Park in Madison. The organization needs more volunteers to make two-year commitments as mentors.

A parent — usually a single mother — has the courage to pick up a phone and call for help.

That's how most children and teenagers enter the Big Brothers Big Sisters program in Dane County.

But too many requests for mentors for the children of caring yet struggling single parents go unfilled. Some 700 young people in Dane County are on the organization's waiting list, which has grown in recent years during the recession and slow economic recovery.

That's almost as many children and teenagers as the 750 who now are matched with an adult to meet with them a few hours each week, either at an area school or on their own.

The push is on in Dane County to recruit more Big Brothers and Big Sisters for this fall to provide a positive influence in more kids' lives.

Some of the young people on the waiting list have lost a parent. Most live in poverty. Many have never had a member of their family go to college.

Big Brothers Big Sisters has long attracted many university students and young professionals to become mentors. That's great and needs to continue.

Yet the nonprofit would like to recruit more middle-aged and older volunteers to serve as positive role models. And the biggest need of all is for more men to mentor boys who lack a strong and consistent father figure.

"If your parent is a doctor, you're likely to become a doctor," Dora Zuniga, executive director of Big Brothers Big Sisters of Dane County, told the State Journal editorial board last week. "If your dad is in jail, it's really hard to break that cycle."

Please consider becoming a volunteer for this long-standing and successful program, which asks for a two-year commitment. You also can give to the Big Brothers Big Sisters fundraising campaign. Or your business can host a lunch to learn more.

"We'll bring pizza and everything," Zuniga offered.

It's a rewarding opportunity to help steer a child or teenager to success.

As Zuniga said: "You break the cycle of poverty one kid at a time."

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