When Jeff Lopes was growing up in Dorchester, he didn’t have a lot of older role models to look up to.
“I always wanted a mentor, but I didn’t know where to find one,” he said.
Now Lopes, a police officer with the Boston Police Department, is one of 25 officers serving as a role model for the next generation.
The Boston Police Department was honored with an Excellence in Mentoring Award on Tuesday night from Big Brother Big Sisters Massachusetts Bay, just months after the organizations joined forces for the new Bigs in Blue partnership.
Lopes, who became a Big in March 2015 prior to the partnership, is currently mentoring a 16-year-old, also a Dorchester native.
“Growing up, I didn’t see a lot of mentors in the community, and with everything we’re facing in the community now, with gang violence and so on, I felt it would be important to get involved with the youth,” Lopes said. "Now that there’s programs like Bigs in Blue available, I think it’s a great opportunity.”
Lopes didn’t see a lot of successful people in his community when he was younger, he said. But he still completed his undergraduate degree, went on to get a master’s (the first in his family to do so) and a career. Now he can now go back into that same community and be an example of success for kids today.
Announced in January, Bigs in Blue program connects police officers as “Bigs” to “Littles” throughout the city. The difference the department is making in the lives of children has already been obvious, said Big Brother Big Sisters Massachusetts Bay President and CEO Wendy Foster.
“Officers have embraced the opportunity to engage on a deeper level with youth and develop long-term friendships that truly impact the lives and outcomes of youth in the neighborhoods that they patrol on a daily basis," she said in a statement.
Lopes’ Little has even asked him about becoming a police officer. But Lopes said that was never the point of the relationship.
“When I’m with him, I’m his Big Brother as a person, not a police officer,” he said. “Being a police officer is just a profession. I want him to see me as a person who cares about him, who wants him to succeed in the future.”
Still, Lopes acknowledged, connecting the department with the community is beneficial both for police and the people who live there. It builds trust on both sides, he said.
“It’s a two-way relationship,” he said. “When police are out there patrolling and responding to calls, they have people in the community they can speak to. … [And] now people trust us and can come to us to let us know when things are happening and where we can focus on in terms of policing.”