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Boston police officers to become 'bigs' to city's youths

The department launched a program in partnership with Big Brothers Big Sisters Massachusetts Bay on Thursday.

Jeff Lopes has been a “big brother” to a Dorchester high schooler since March 2015. Lopes himself grew in Dorchester and he saw a lot of friends fall into what he called “the wrong path.” He wanted to help other kids avoid that.

Lopes is also a police officer, and soon more of his colleagues will become mentors to Boston kids as part of the Bigs in Blue Program.

Big Brothers Big Sisters of Massachusetts Bay and the Boston Police Department announced on Thursday a partnership that connects officer with young residents for a relationship both organizations hope will benefit everyone involved.

“The work we do in the community every day is what Big Brothers Big Sisters is striving for — building connections, being positive role models,” Lopes said. “A lot of youth in the city come from single-parent homes and don’t have young men and women to look up to. I think this program will be significant in making that happen.”

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Bigs in Blue is currently operating or being developed in 42 communities across the country, including such cities as Baltimore, Chicago, New York, Philadelphia and St. Louis.

The program began in Massachusetts in December with the Barnstable Police Department. Thursday marked the official start of the program in Boston, which is kicking off with commitments from 25 officers.

The Boston program is also part of Mayor Marty Walsh’s Mentoring Movement, an initiative to have 10 percent of the young residents participating in the program matched with city employees as their mentor.

“Boston is a model city in our nation for having strong police-community relations thanks to the men and women of the Boston Police Department who go above and beyond the call of duty to give back and be role models for our youth," Walsh said at the program’s announcement at the BPD headquarters. "The Bigs in Blue program is another example of how our law enforcement officials are working hard to be a positive influence in young peoples' lives, and it highlights the true value gained by mentoring opportunities.”

Wendy Foster, president and CEO of Big Brothers Big Sisters Massachusetts Bay, assured that there will be no compensation for officers in the program as it's completely voluntary. She also said that the fact that a volunteer is an officer will be disclosed to the child and their parent.

Each “Big” officer will spend between four to eight hours a month with their “Little.” Big Brothers Big Sisters asks that volunteers can commit to at least a year of mentorship to start.

“With this partnership, we are optimistic that Boston police officers will develop friendships that make a difference and last a lifetime while building a bridge between police and the community,” Foster said.

This kind of mentorship helps kids who may struggling stay in school, have higher aspirations and in general be more confident, Foster said. Lopes has seen these benefits first hand, even if it took some adjustment.

“We have a great relationship, though it did start off in a rough spot because we didn’t know each other — I was law, he had been in trouble,” Lopes said. “But I guided him to the right place.”

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