Baylor Scholar Earns Award for his Volunteer Mentoring of a Waco YouthFeb. 7, 2013
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WACO, Texas (Feb. 7, 2013) -- Byron Johnson, Ph.D., director of Baylor University's Institute for Studies of Religion, has been named Big Brother of the Year Lone Star, an award recognizing outstanding volunteers who provide exceptional and life-changing impact through one-on-one mentoring to children who face adversity.
Johnson's commitment to his Little Brother is "the epitome of what we hope to achieve for all of our matches," said Tammy Richards, chief executive officer of Big Brothers Big Sisters. The agency, affiliated with the national Big Brothers Big Sisters program, serves North Texas, North Central Texas, West Central Texas and the greater Houston area.
Johnson has been meeting with Blake West, 16, of Waco, his Little Brother in the program, for more than four years and watched him grow from a youngster to a 6-foot-2 young man who weighs 235 pounds and "looks like a Baylor linebacker," Johnson said.
The two often attend Baylor sporting events, and Johnson's encouragement has helped Blake to excel in his classes, volunteer and join the junior police academy. Johnson's biggest impact has been on Blake's commitment to his future, said Sherry White, Blake's mother. Blake, a high school junior, plans a career in law enforcement after college.
"I signed Blake up for the program because his father wasn't in our lives, and I felt Blake needed a male role model," White said. "He got approved and matched up with Byron, and Byron has been a tremendous inspiration. Blake wasn't too excited about going to college, but now he is, and he wants to get the good grades. Byron is always there for him when he needs a little advice . . . Blake has cheered up and grown up."
Johnson, who has done a great deal of research on religion's role in prosocial youth behavior, said that he and his wife were approaching the "empty nester" phase of the lives when he decided to get involved with Big Brothers Big Sisters.
"I knew in my head, based on all the best research, that this works, and I thought, 'Why shouldn't I be trying to help? This is important,'" Johnson said.
Besides attending games and concerts with Johnson, Blake spends time with his mentor's family.
"He gets along great with them all," Johnson said. "He's doing great in school, and we talk about college and career. We laugh and cut up. And even though we're as different as night and day, he can read me like a book, and I can read him."
Blake, meanwhile, said that when he began the Big Brothers Big Sisters program, "I really didn't know what it was, what I was getting into. But when I first saw him (Johnson), he seemed like a really nice guy, a really cool guy. We're both laid back and into sports.
"I've always wanted to go into law enforcement, and he supported me," Blake said. "He wants to take me to Sam Houston State (which has a criminal justice program) for a tour. I'm glad he's been in my life this whole time."
White said Johnson also has been there for Blake during difficult times.
"Byron had just come in from one of his trips, and my dad was in the hospital," she said. "Byron's wife picked him up at the airport, and he came up to the hospital for a few minutes to be there for Blake, because he knew Blake was upset."
Johnson, an active Big Brothers Big Sisters recruiter on the Baylor campus, praised the program's approach.
"They don't want to create friction or tension in the family; they want to be able to fill a void," he said.
Many people seek to become a Big Brother or Big Sister with the idea of "I'm going to help someone," Johnson said. "You need to go into it if you are called, but I think the people that do the mentoring are really the big winners. It's not a one-way relationship in which the 'Big' helps the 'Little.'"
Big Brothers Big Sisters serves more than 30,000 children, volunteers and families in more than 100 counties in Texas. In the selection process, Johnson next will move on to statewide Big Brothers Big Sisters award recognition. Texas winners are eligible for national awards selected by Big Brothers Big Sisters of America.
The program aids children facing adversity, who often are from single or low-income households or families in which a parent is serving in the military or incarcerated. The goals are to help the children achieve educational success, avoid risky behaviors and develop higher aspirations, confidence and better relationships. Partnering with parents/guardians, schools, corporations and others in the community, Big Brothers Big Sisters pairs children ("Littles") with screened volunteer mentors ("Bigs") and monitors and supports these one-to-one relationships throughout their course. For more information on the program, visit www.bbbstx.org
In addition to directing ISR, Johnson is Distinguished Professor of the Social Sciences and leads Baylor's Program on Prosocial Behavior. He is a senior fellow at the Sagamore Institute for Policy Research and has directed research centers at Vanderbilt University and the University of Pennsylvania and completed a series of studies for the Department of Justice on religion's role in prosocial youth behavior.
He is recognized as a leading authority on the scientific study of religion, the efficacy of faith-based organizations, domestic violence and criminal justice. His research also has been used in consultation with the Department of Defense, Department of Labor and the National Institutes of Health.
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Baylor University is a private Christian university and a nationally ranked research institution, characterized as having "high research activity" by the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching. The university provides a vibrant campus community for approximately 15,000 students by blending interdisciplinary research with an international reputation for educational excellence and a faculty commitment to teaching and scholarship. Chartered in 1845 by the Republic of Texas through the efforts of Baptist pioneers, Baylor is the oldest continually operating university in Texas. Located in Waco, Baylor welcomes students from all 50 states and more than 80 countries to study a broad range of degrees among its 11 nationally recognized academic divisions. Baylor sponsors 19 varsity athletic teams and is a founding member of the Big 12 Conference.