Think of an adult who made a difference in your life when you were young. Didn’t take long, right? And the memory made you smile? For many Arlington youth, they’ll think of one of these four Connect With Kids Champions when someone asks them that same question in 25 years.
Connect with Kids (CWK) Champions are ordinary people who make extraordinary efforts to let young people know they are cared for and valued in our community. The Arlington Partnership for Children, Youth & Families (APCYF) selects CWK Champions twice annually as a way to acknowledge those who are making a difference in the lives of Arlington youth.
Bob Bigney, or “Coach Bob,” takes time out of his busy schedule as the technical director for the Arlington Soccer Association to do even more for kids on a personal level. For several years, Bob has carved out time and attention for the students at Carlin Springs Elementary School. Students light up when Bigney enters the cafeteria or comes out at recess to organize lunchtime soccer. He also runs a lunch group for boys who need extra support. Teachers know they can bring Bob in as an extra support for students who need help getting along with their peers or staying on top of their schoolwork. “Coach Bob has been an inspiration for our 4th and 5th grade boys,” said Carlin Springs guidance counselor Gretchen Brenckle. “He has really helped them understand the larger meaning of teamwork.”
Anne Malleck teaches English as a Second Language at Long Branch Elementary School. She has made a difference in the lives of her students by teaching them about getting along with one another and modeling good behavior. Every day, she holds a morning meeting to speak about good peer relations, using examples and role playing to help students understand the lesson. She encourages them to use their words (and build vocabulary) instead of fists to settle disputes. And they practice language skills by complimenting one another.
Gerardo Merino – Every Monday the members of the Junior Buckingham Youth Brigade (BYB) are greeted with a big smile from Merino. A one-time member of the club, he felt it was important to give back to his community so he finds the time between all of his other responsibilities to do so. In the summer of 2012, he volunteered two to three times a week at the BYB summer camp. “He has an incredible ability to teach the children or teens to feel comfortable with who they are, while also feeling special, cherished and safe,” said Alyssa Duda, BYB director. As he has developed relationships with the youth, he has begun to be a presence in their lives outside of BYB meetings as well, attending their sporting events or simply taking them out for lunch when he sees them out in Arlington.
Mo Tayari has dedicated his life to connecting with kids and fostering a love of soccer within them. As a soccer coach, he is kind yet tough with the boys on his team. Through his own example – he arrived in this country knowing no English, but was able to learn the language, find work as a soccer coach, and move up in the organization — he teaches his players that hard work and discipline can help you achieve your goals. “He is one of those people who kids just connect with easily,” said Danielle Leach, a parent from one of his teams. Tayari uses soccer as a language to connect with his players but will take extra time with kids who are struggling athletically, academically or personally, listening to them and providing encouragement.
The Arlington County School Board recognized Bigney and Malleck in a special ceremony at the February 7, 2013, School Board meeting. Merino and Tayari will be recognized by the Arlington County Board at the Board’s February 26, 2013 meeting.
Do you know a Connect with Kids Champion? You can nominate a person, business or organization that goes above and beyond in building relationships with young people. Nominations are accepted anytime, but the deadline for the Spring nominees is April 5, 2013. For more information please contact Michael Swisher, Assets Liaison, at firstname.lastname@example.org, or 703-228-1671.