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Big Brothers Big Sisters forms lasting bonds to overcome challenges

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DURHAM, N.C. -

In the first six months of 2013, police investigated 13 deaths in Durham. City leaders recently laid out their concerns about violent crime in a news conference, saying many of the suspects and victims were young, ages 18 to 21, and African American.

There are a number of efforts to tackle those issues in cities and towns around the Triangle, not just in Durham.

Big Brothers Big Sisters attempts to make a difference by making friends and family out of those at risk, one kid at a time.

Telajuwon Pride, 17, said he has seen firsthand the dangers that are out there since he was around the age of 10.

"Me and my friends used to hang out around with the wrong crowds, people that were around a lot of,like, gangs, like gang-related, and around a lot of, like, drugs and violence," he said.

That's why his mother sought out a mentor for him. That's where Jonas Monast, 41, came into his life.

"What I want to do with Telajuwon is give him the kinds of experiences and the kinds of attention that every young man deserves and unfortunately not a lot of them get," said Jonas, who is the Climate and Energy Program Director at the Nicholas Institute for Environmental Policy Solutions at Duke University.

The two talked about the program's impact on their lives to WNCN over gelato at Francesca's Dessert Caffe in Durham, then went shopping for a book. It's the kind of comfortable, relaxed relationship the two unlikely friends have developed.

"The nice thing about knowing each other so well now is we don't have to do special things. We can just do normal activities together," Jonas said.

The Need By Numbers

Kids ages six to 14 can enroll in Big Brothers Big Sisters, though as evident with Telajuwon, the program continues to serve young people up to age 18 or until they graduate high school.

In 2012, Big Brothers Big Sisters served 1,127 kids in Durham, Orange and Wake counties. That includes children who are ready to be matched with a ‘big,' who are invited to monthly activities through the organization. Of those, 877 children already have a match.

Of those kids who have a ‘big' matched with them:

56 percent are girls

44 percent are boys

74 percent are African American

80 percent come from single-parent homes

23 percent have a parent who is incarcerated

"I've been a ‘big' three times and it's always the same – the child usually doesn't have one of the role models in the home, whether it's the mother or the father, and they're in need of someone just to talk to, to spend time with," said Kimberly Breeden, CEO of Big Brothers Big Sisters of the Triangle.

She's seen first-hand the dangerous backgrounds they come from.

"I have witnessed two shootings in some of the roughest parts of Greensboro when I was working in Greensboro, yes. So, these kids receive so much negative influence in their lives, it's right there in front of them. They live in these communities where a lot of the crimes are happening. This program allows them to get outside of that and to see some positive things that go on in our community," Breeden said.

"Being matched with a child that came from circumstances I had never experienced scared me at first, but once that match was made, it was just natural. We became close friends and are friends to this day."

There's a waiting list for kids to get mentors in the Triangle: 200 boys and 50 girls.

The biggest need is in Durham, where 71 boys and 20 girls are waiting.

"It's one of the things that keeps me up at night because I know there are children out there that need us," Breeden said.

She said the commitment of at least a year and eight hours a month scares away some potential mentors.

"I think it's a nurturing thing for females. It's easy for a female to become a big. But, it takes a little bit of work for a male to get involved, but once you get them involved, they're your longest-lasting relationships," she said.

Most matches last an average of 22 months.

Lasting Impact

Jonas and Telejuwon have been together about six years.

"I would have missed a lot of the great things that I've gotten out of this relationship if I had ended after one year or two years. It really just grows richer over time," Jonas said.

In that time, Telejuwon spoke at Jonas' wedding and help build Jonas' house.

"Building the house together was a chance for us to take some of the things he was learning in school and actually apply it. So, we talked about math. When we were cutting rafters, we were talking about geometry," Jonas said.

That's led to an interest in school and better grades.

"When I'm in school doing that work, I just think about what he'd tell me and what he'll think if he sees this grade. Now, when I show him my grades, he can't do anything but smile," Telejuwon said.

He wants to go to college, major in math or communications and maybe one day be a builder.

"I wouldn't have went to college. I wouldn't have even tried to pursue school or a career. I would have just been another young man not wanting to do anything with his life. My eyes weren't as open to the world as they are now since I've been paired with Jonas. I'm thankful for that," he said.

Jonas gives credit to Telejuwon.

"He was encouraged to join gangs and he chose not to. Now, we spend time talking about what he's going to do after high school. It's all coming from him. I wouldn't take credit for it, but to support him while he's making these choices has been a really, really special thing for me," he said.

Telejuwon is entering his senior year at Hillside High School. Jonas plans to work with him on applying to colleges. When he graduates in the spring, the two plan a celebratory trip to New York.

Their relationship is part friends, part brothers, even part father-son.

Telejuwon lost his grandfather, who was his primary male role model, in 2007.

"One of the biggest compliments Telajuwon has given me is he's said periodically he'll say he thinks of me as a father figure," Jonas said.

However you define their bond, they now view one another as family.

"He's part of the family now whether he likes it or not," Jonas joked.

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Justin Quesinberry

Justin is a reporter for WNCN and a North Carolina native. He has spent the better part of the last decade covering the news in central North Carolina.