Jessie Cooley: Amherst agency makes case for CDBG money

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Wednesday, February 14, 2018
Amherst agency makes case for CDBG money

As the Feb. 6 article on the Amherst Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) recommendations indicated, the Center for Human Development’s Big Brothers Big Sisters of Hampshire County and the Amherst Boys and Girls Club were not recommended for 2018 funding (“Groups flag concerns over CDBG recommendations”).

Despite youth development being an identified priority in the Amherst community development strategy, youth programs will be left out of town funding altogether this year. As noted in your article, the explanation for this decision was that funding will focus on “‘basic human needs’ this year, such as job training, literacy and food.”

At Big Brothers Big Sisters, we know we are in fact addressing basic human needs, by providing positive social connection and a critical source of support for families and young people who are struggling. Experiencing positive social connection is essential to our health and wellness.

One study involving 1,300 young people showed reduced depressive symptoms in those who were in mentoring relationships. Children who are mentored through Big Brothers Big Sisters of Hampshire County have higher self-esteem, better relationships with peers and family members, and a more positive attitude toward school.

And researchers now know that social connection is as predictive of our life expectancy as obesity, high blood pressure and smoking.

Research has also demonstrated that young people with mentors are 46 percent less likely than their peers to start using drugs, 27 percent less likely to start drinking, and 52 percent less likely to skip school. They are significantly more likely to graduate from high school and attend college, and 130 percent more likely to become leaders in their community.

All of these outcomes help prevent young people from facing food insecurity, unemployment, addiction and homelessness later in life. In fact, investing in mentoring programs brings an almost three-to-one return on investment through reduced crime, lower school dropout rates, reduced involvement in risky behaviors like substance use, and higher lifetime earnings, among other long-term benefits.

Providing social connection and support for young people in our community must be a priority. I hope you will join me in championing our local youth programs and investing in our young people.

Jessie Cooley


The writer is director of Big Brothers Big Sisters of Hampshire County.