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Spare time, big impact: Jacksonville responders mentor youth in new program

The impact of Big Brothers, Big Sisters of Northeast Florida's 'Bigs in Badges' program.
The impact of Big Brothers, Big Sisters of Northeast Florida's 'Bigs in Badges' program.

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – Big Brothers Big Sisters of Northeast Florida is pairing children with first responders to help build stronger relationships in the community.

Their spare time is making a big impact on children’s lives.

“Building relationships, positive relationships throughout the community in the youth in this particular incident are very important to me and dear to my heart, " said Officer Travis Johnson with the Jacksonville Sheriff’s Office.

Johnson is a police officer with the Jacksonville Sheriff’s Office and a mentor with the program’s Bigs in Badges Program.

The program aims to connect children with servicemen and women. Its goal is to build stronger bonds and trust within the community.

“I think officers in general sometimes get a bad stigma like we’ve all noticed. But in this particular incident, I think Jessiah and I-- we have a good enough relationship, and they see our bond between each other and that I choose to do this in my free time it’s all volunteer, so I think it sheds a good light on police officers,” Johnson said.

“I wanted a mentor so I could have someone to talk to and hang out with,” said 8-year-old Jessiah Haddad.

This third-grader’s bond with his mentor is already making a major impact on his life.

“He does a lot for me, and he’s taken me places. Like, he took me fishing, he took me to the circus, he took me subway, and he helps me with math,” Jessiah said. “I was happy that it was a police officer because I want to be a police officer. I want to be an officer because officers have to do a lot of dangerous situations.”

“You changing a child’s life. Whether it just be a listening ear or providing guidance or whatever it may be for that child in that particular phase of their life. So the difference that you’ll make on that youth is... it can be very important,” Johnson said.

This month, JSO officers ran in uniform from the Police Memorial Building to TIAA Bank as part of a national challenge to highlight the NFL’s Inspire Change Initiative while increasing awareness of its partnership with Big Brothers, Big Sisters of Northeast Florida and Merrell’s Shared Steps Go Further Challenge.

Showing that mentorship starts with one small step, to make a long-lasting difference.

“I would tell him thank you for doing everything that he does for me and taking me all the places, that he takes me. And he’s the best brother ever,” said Johnson.

The typical mentor requirement is 4 to 7 hours a month on average.

You can find more about the program here.

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Anchors the 4:30 a.m. newscast, provides traffic updates throughout the rest of The Morning Show, then reports on events in the community.