Happy January, National Mentoring Month, and the perfect time to learn about Big Brothers Big Sisters, the oldest and largest youth mentoring organization in the country! Since 1993, BBBS has been in Northwest Arkansas, forming over 1,900 mentoring matches in Washington and Benton counties. These one-to-one mentoring relationships between caring adults (“Bigs”) and children (“Littles”) have documented positive outcomes for the children. Survey results show that Littles have improved school attendance, healthier peer relationships, enhanced self-confidence and outlook for their future, and are less likely to use drugs or alcohol, or get into fights. In 2015, BBBS NWA volunteers gave over 19,000 mentoring hours to help 260 children.
In order to be a Little, the child typically either lives below the poverty level, has a parent in jail, or comes from a single parent home, and often a child qualifies on all three accounts. As child safety is a primary concern, there is structured protocol that all chapters follow regarding the recruitment and interviews of the Bigs, the Littles and their families; the matching process; and then the monthly monitoring by the program staff. It costs about $1,000 to set-up and monitor a match for the first year. All programs and services are provided free to the Little, their family and the Big. Littles joining the program are 6 to 14 years old, and then age out at 18 years old. Many Littles and Bigs are lifelong friends.
We have a significant need for Big Brothers and Big Sisters in Northwest Arkansas, as well as Big Couples and Big Families (where the entire family can enjoy being with the Little.) In fact, putting a child with a Big Family is a great way for that child to experience healthy family dynamics and, in the case of a Little who is an only child, provide him or her with virtual siblings. Participating families have remarked that their family time together actually improves when a Little is around as the family is often more focused on doing an activity together instead of scattering in different directions! There are 40 children on the waiting list right now, many of whom are boys.
Match activities don’t need to be fancy or expensive; it is all about spending time with the child. Activities can include going to the park, visiting a museum, baking cookies or tossing a football in the backyard! And yet, what a difference this attention from a caring and encouraging adult can make in the life of a child.
Here is one of the success stories…
Zayne and his Big, Jeff Young, were matched in 2014 when Zayne was nine years old and going into fifth grade. His counselor recommended to his mother that Zayne might enjoy having a Big Brother. Zayne lives with his mother Melissa and sister, and his parents are divorced. Melissa strongly felt that Zayne would benefit from a having a kind, caring and positive male role model, particularly one that could model how to positively express and control one’s emotions, as at times Zayne would get angry and lash out. She felt the Big Brother would need to be fairly energetic and athletic to keep up with Zayne, and hoped he would be a good leader, exhibit a strong work ethic and be willing to have fun and try new things. Melissa is quite pleased with the match, reports that Zayne is having a wonderful time with Jeff, and is so appreciative of the time and attention he devotes to her son.
Since Jeff and Zayne both adore sports, much of their time together is spent participating in or watching sporting events (an activity that Mrs. Young is just as happy to miss!) Together, they have enjoyed going to Razorback football and basketball games, watching Naturals baseball, volleyball and other assorted teams. Jeff has also cheered on Zayne at his wrestling matches and baseball games. Together, they have participated in two of the Razorback football practice visits that Big Brothers Big Sisters matches get invited to watch, both in 2014 and 2015, where they were lucky enough to meet Coach Bielema and get autographs from the football team members.
Zayne also enjoys spending time with Jeff’s family including daughter Rachel, a Razorback cheerleader, and RHS Mountie football playing son Jay, and Jeff will jokingly tease that Zayne prefers spending time with his kids rather than him. Zayne has also benefited from some extra one-on-one reading help from Mrs. Young, and has significantly increased his reading score at school. Zayne has gone to church with the Youngs, and now is interested in getting baptized.
Jeff and Zayne took part in the inaugural NWA Lemonade Day in 2015 where the two studied the 14 lessons of entrepreneurship, culminating in having a lemonade stand in Rogers on the first Saturday in May. There, Zayne exhibited his salesman skills and sold $150 of lemonade.
A more typical visit includes them throwing the football in the backyard and then going out for some pizza, or maybe out for a fun activity like a quick trip to the trampoline park or golf course. On their first day together, they ended up going to Casey’s for a slice of pizza and a soda, and that quickly evolved into “their spot” to just hangout and talk. According to Jeff, they spend quiet time talking about life, how to handle challenges, school, God, and of course, girls (a thought that sends Zayne into giggles). Jeff says that Zayne is caring and kind, fun and funny, and over their time together, he has seen Zayne grow from a quiet and shy boy to one who is confident and comfortable with whom he is.
To learn how you can become a mentor, contact us at bbbsnwa.org or (479) 966-4366.
Sarah Van Vleck
Big Brothers Big Sisters of NWA