Children First/CIS helps children in poverty thrive

“The number one thing that transforms our children is consistency,” says Barbara Norton, Children First/CIS Learning Center program coordinator. “Each week for four years, Rick Sunshine has shown up for these children. As a volunteer, he is providing safety and security to these children that they may not have in their home lives. That is invaluable.” 

Brothers “Felix,” age 8, and “Andy,” age 10 (names and photographs have been changed to protect their family’s privacy), are both enrolled in one of the learning centers and have not had many positive male role models in their lives. They live in a low-income housing community and are being raised by a committed, yet overwhelmed single mother. Being a single mother to five children with ages ranging from infant to high-school, while holding down a full-time job, offers challenges.

Felix and Andy both came to the learning center with behavioral issues, which is not unusual for boys without a consistent male role model. According to an impact study conducted by the Big Brothers Big Sisters organization, boys with male role models reported fewer problems with anger than boys who have no male role model. And boys living apart from their fathers, without male role models, are at dramatically greater risk for drug or alcohol abuse, according to statistics from the National Center for Health Statistics Survey on Child Health. 

Knowing that these two brothers were in need of a male role model, the Children First/CIS Learning Center staff paired Felix and Andy with Rick as their mentor. The staff noticed a marked improvement in the boys’ behavior on the days that Rick was there to help them with their homework and give them the attention they needed. Their mother even noticed a difference at home. “I’m so happy with the Learning Center program,” says the boys’ mother. “It is such a blessing and so is Rick. I don’t have to worry about helping them do their homework, so it is a big help to me.” She goes on to say that she has noticed a big difference in the boy’s attitudes about going to school. “Felix really likes going to school now and he’s respectful to his teacher.”

Leaves are starting to fall from the trees, birds are heading south and the Children First/CIS Learning Centers are open again for the school year.  After an absence during the summer break, the children get the chance to see the volunteers again. When staff asked Felix if he was excited to see Rick again, his eyes lit up and he broke into a huge grin. “Rick is cool. He helps me with my reading and math and shows me stuff from his trips to other countries.” This is high praise, indeed.

You don’t have to be a Nobel Prize winning scientist, a prima ballerina, or even the smartest person in your high school graduating class to mentor a child. You just have to listen. Engage. And show up. 
Children First’s mission is to empower children and their families to reach their full potential through advocacy, education and services. The mission of Communities In Schools is to surround students with a community of support, empowering them to stay in school and achieve in life. To find out more about Children First/CIS, go to


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