DEA's New York Division Reported in the Big Brother Big Sister Annual Report The Power to Change Perception
DEC 26 -- The Federal Law Enforcement Foundation was started in 1988 in order to raise money to support programs that help improve the relationship between law enforcement and the community. In 2005 the foundation funded a Workplace Mentoring Program through Big Brothers Big Sisters (BBBS) New York City at the Drug Enforcement Administration’s (DEA) offices in Manhattan. Employees were paired with at-risk- youth from a local public school on site, meeting every other week throughout the school year. This was the first time a federal agency participated in a Workplace Mentoring program.
At first, officials at the DEA were concerned that they might not have enough employees interested in volunteering, but the response was overwhelming. After going through the match process, 15 youths were matched with 15 DEA employees, including enforcement agents, diversion investigators and support staff. All the match relationships proved to be very successful and nearly all matches are still together, going into their third school year.
John P. Gilbride, the Special Agent in Charge of the DEA offices in New York, helps run the program (and is a “Big” in the program, too). Gilbride felt that the relationship between the DEA employees and the “Littles” is particularly enjoyable for this staff because they embrace the opportunity to have a positive impact on the lives of children in the community. “We’re often viewed as the bad guys, so it’s great to show these kids our human side in a relaxed environment, and demonstrate what we do.” The officers appreciate the opportunity to help a young person at a critical time in their development, and introduce other avenues available to them. Gilbride adds that all the “Littles” and “Bigs” have returned year after year to the program which means they are getting something out of the experience.
An Entire Organization Thrives on its Participation
Gilbride explains that the organization, with nearly 700 employees, feels the enthusiasm when the children come for their visit. In fact, the entire staff got involved with a project where they recreated a drug investigation process. They planted clues around the office, helped the students set up surveillance cameras, had them obtain search warrants (with real judges coming in to hear the evidence), find evidence and witnesses to testify, and finally presenting their cases to a judge. Everyone experienced the excitement over the weeks and was reminded of their early days in law enforcement when everything seemed new.
In addition, more than 100 DEA employees participated in the past two annual BBBS “Run/Walk for Kids”, and in both years the DEA won the award for most participants. Anthony Bergamo, Chairman of the Law Enforcement Foundation, reports that of all the programs they fund, the mentoring program is one of the most satisfying. Based on its success, the Foundation has opted to increase funding to expand the program to the other federal agencies, including the FBI and the US Attorney’s Office, Southern District, enabling 50 more matches in the coming year. “Small successes build big successes, and when a child feels special they feel good about themselves,” he explains, adding that the volunteers also get a great deal out of the relationship too.