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May 1, 2004

Helping boys blossom

From: San Antonio Express, TX - May 1, 2004

Scott Huddleston
San Antonio Express-News

It's Friday afternoon. Time for Mike Griffin to light up the classroom with a smile and a handful of goodies — South Padre Island T-shirts and posters for coloring.

"This is going to be a group project for us, OK? Check it out!" said the 52-year-old Griffin, who relishes his role as friend, mentor and confidant to four 11-year-old boys at the Sunshine Cottage School for Deaf Children.

In the three months they've known each other, Griffin has made the best of his time with the boys, playing basketball, flying kites, or just "hanging" and talking, he said.

They will keep meeting weekly until the school year ends in June.

Then the boys will graduate and attend Nimitz Middle School. They'll have a resource teacher there, in case they need help with their language skills, hearing aids or homework.

The move will be a big one for the hearing-impaired boys. The hearing aids and cochlear implants that allow them to listen to their teachers also mark them as different.

But the time they spend with Griffin is preparing them for new horizons.

For the next few fun weeks, their plans include playing soccer and building model cars with their buddy.

"I've noticed that they are not as shy and are eager to talk to people they don't know," said Misty Sindt, the boys' fifth-grade teacher. "Mr. Griffin has shown the boys that they can communicate with anyone."

Early this year, Sindt realized she needed a male role model for her small, all-boy class. The school contacted Griffin, operations director of the Weinberg Campus at the Jewish Community Center.

Griffin, who has two grown sons, was apprehensive at first. He had mentored a 17-year-old who is now 27 and calls him "Dad." But mentoring four boys seemed daunting.

Then, after an hour with the boys, he decided he'd keep coming back.

"All you have to do is take a step toward them, and they take two steps toward you," he said.

Two of the boys, Justin Bermea and Andrew Perez, said they think their friend "Mike" is "pretty cool."

"Now we know how to build a kite, and we talk about our favorite Spurs players," said Julio Cruz, another student.

"I want to play with him a lot."

The boys in Sindt's class are fortunate, said Breanna Rye, recruitment and marketing coordinator at Big Brothers Big Sisters, Alamo Area, which last year assisted about 1,300 children ages 7 to 14 in need of guidance or support in Bexar, Comal, Guadalupe and Kerr counties.

Of 250 children on a waiting list, two-thirds are boys, she said. The organization has about 540 big sisters and only 290 big brothers, partly because of military deployments.

"A lot of volunteers are in the military," Rye said. "We're always in a need of big brothers."

© 2004 KENS 5 and the San Antonio Express-News. All rights reserved.