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Editorial - Brothers and sisters

July 08, 1997

After a five-year effort, Franklin County, Pa., has its own chapter of the Big Brothers/Big Sisters organization. It's a development local citizens should applaud, because what this group does can have a profound and positive effect on young people's lives.

That's not just pie-in-the-sky happy talk. Several years ago, the organization's methods were the subject of an in-depth study by Public/Private Ventures, a Philadelphia organization that studies public policy.

The PPV study looked at 959 youngsters aged 10 to 16 who applied to the program in 1992 and 1993. Half the group was matched up with a Big Brother or Big Sister. The rest were on a list, waiting for a match.

The difference between those children who were matched up with adult mentors and those who weren't was dramatic. Just one year with a Big Brother or Big Sister cut a child's chance of trying drugs early by 46 percent, trimmed school absenteeism by 52 percent and reduced violent behavior by 33 percent.

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The results continued in that vein, and were consistent for boys and girls of all races. When the study was released in December 1995, it was hailed as new evidence that a caring adult can have a positive effect on behavior, even if the child is way past kindergarten.

The Franklin County effort began with David Pankiw, a former Big Brother in Wilmington, Del., who got the Chambersburg Rotary Club interested in the idea. Money woes stalled the project for awhile, until organizers linked up with the Franklin County Commissioners, who are now providing office space, a telephone and other services.

That won't cover all the organization's needs, but it will go a long way. It's a wise use of taxpayers funds, because if volunteers can put youths on the right path early, chances are good they won't need more expensive taxpayer-funded services later on.

The most urgent need for this group now is volunteers to actually share a part of their lives with youths who need direction and to know that someone cares. If you can help, or just want more information, call 1-717-261-0094.

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