Cadets serve children as role models, mentors through club

Story and photos by Michelle Schneider PV Photojournalist

February 21st, 2020 | News, News and Features
 Class of 2022 Cadets Michael Kaffka (passing the basketball) and Mason Lee play basketball with “littles” Sean Larkins and Tyler Nichols during a Big Brothers Big Sisters cadet club session.
 Class of 2022 Cadet Prarabdha Yonzon hangs out with Kadrian Criado at the Highland Falls Intermediate School jungle gym on Feb. 4 as part of his weekly meeting for the Big Brothers Big Sisters cadet club.

Forty-five minutes a week may not sound like much, but for the U.S. Military Academy cadets in the Big Brothers Big Sisters of America club it is enough time to make an impact.
Each week, cadets in the club travel to Highland Falls Intermediate School, in the town outside the academy’s gates, and give back by mentoring students. The cadets play games, teach the students about character and more than anything are just present as positive role models in the students’ lives.
“It would be easy to miss the positive impact the cadets have on their ‘littles,’ as the mentees are called, because our interactions usually last only 45 minutes once a week,” Maj. Clyde Daines, the officer in charge of the Big Brother Big Sisters club, said. “But it would also be hard to overstate the importance of that weekly 45 minutes from the perspectives of some of the children.”
Daines said the joy children receive from having someone to play with, whether it’s basketball, board games or video games and the relief they feel from having a mentor to talk to about struggles at school or home leaves a lasting impression.
The weekly visit to the school has become a positive two-way street, Class of 2021 Cadet Ike Nawa said. Not only do the cadets have a chance to positively impact the students they mentor, the students in turn inspire the cadets and show them the value of taking time to volunteer.
“Initially, I went in thinking this is going to be a one-way street. I planned to give this kid a foundation on how to behave and be that supporting figure in his life by emphasizing sports, teamwork, respect and meeting people —just common things he may not get at home from a broken home life,” Nawa said. “Ultimately, it’s a two-way street because I’m getting as much from him as he gets from me. It’s a fulfilling experience to mentor and teach someone.”
Nawa said his father is also a member of the Big Brothers Big Sisters organization and he mentors children from the inner-city area of Philadelphia. After visits, they compare notes and talk about how to benefit their littles.
Regardless of the students or cadets’ background and the struggles they have faced or are facing, the main focus of the club is for cadets to assist the students by developing their potential and giving them something to aspire to as role models.
“Among the Highland Falls Intermediate School, the Big Brothers Big Sisters organization and our own cadet club, we are each dedicated to developing ethical and educated citizens,” Daines said. “The goal is that not only individuals, but communities can address challenges and thrive. Both HFIS and West Point approach this goal by developing character, knowledge and principled leadership among its student body.”
Mentoring Manager of BBBS Cecili Chadwhick said she is incredibly impressed and inspired with the cadets and their drive to volunteer on top of a very busy schedule. She added that she believes the work they do with the organization builds character, which will benefit them as leaders.
“I think sometimes people wrongly have the impression that volunteer work should be easy, but it’s hard work,” Chadwhick said. “The cadets at West Point have volunteered to serve our country, but when they do this work, there is something about it that shapes them into virtuous, well-rounded people through one-to-one mentoring with that child. It helps to shape and mold someone else and in turn shapes somebody else.”
Big Brothers Big Sisters links the goals of Highland Falls Intermediate School and West Point cadets by having them volunteer as mentors. Daines said this process of collaboration among civil, military and non-profit organizations builds a sense of community that benefits civilian and military societies.