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Big Brothers Big Sisters is a One-to-One mentoring program for children, usually between the ages of six and fifteen (I say usually because this varies from agency to agency). Most of the children are from single parent households, although some exceptions are made (for example, children living with grandparents, children with a parent who is incarcerated, etc...).

The "Bigs" are volunteers who commit to give a year of their time, usually 8-12 hours a month, to spend with a child. They do normal, everyday activities ranging from going to the library to playing sports to going shopping. There are also, within certain agencies, different programs you can get involved in which may work better with your schedule.

There is no fee for being involved in Big Brothers Big Sisters. To find an agency near you, check their website at www.bbbsa.org

Big Brothers Big Sisters was founded in 1904 by Ernest Coulter, a court clerk in New York. It began with 39 volunteers who each agreed to befriend one boy. Originally, Big Brothers and Big Sisters were two separate organizations, which merged in 1977. Today, Big Brothers Big Sisters serves over 200,000 youth across the United States.

In addition to its main community-based program, which requests a commitment of one afternoon or evening a week for a period of a year, Big Brothers Big Sisters also offers many other programs to provide important mentoring to at-risk children. These include:

  • Big Brothers Big Sisters in Schools - Volunteers provide Littles with one-on-one time in their schools, usually once a week during the young person's lunchtime.
  • Club-based Big Brothers Big Sisters - This is done in a partnership with the Boys and Girls Club, where volunteers meet with the Littles at the club facilities typically three times a month, providing structure and a safe meeting place.
  • High School Bigs - This program matches high school juniors and seniors with elementary student Littles during the academic year. This allows the high school student to experience the joy of service while giving the elementary student a role model close to their own age.

How it works:

  • The first step is to submit an application to Big Brothers Big Sisters. Volunteers submit applications, and the parent or guardian submits an application on behalf of the child.
  • Next, a match specialist will interview each applicant, getting a feel for them and ensuring that they are well-suited for the program (and vice versa). A background check is done on all volunteer applicants to ensure that high quality volunteers are participating in the program.
  • Volunteers participate in a training class to acquaint them with the expectations of the program and to make them aware of the community resources available to them.
  • The match specialist will, based on the interests and personalities of the volunteers and the child, attempt to match a volunteer (Big) with a child (Little). This match is subject to approval by the child, the child's parent/guardian, and the volunteer.
  • A match support specialist (a trained employee of Big Brothers Big Sisters) is assigned to the match, and he/she plans the first meeting between the Big and the Little.
  • After this, the match begins meeting regularly. The match support specialist maintains contact with the Big, the Little, and the Little's parent or guardian to ensure that everything goes as smoothly as possible.

Some suggestions for a successful match:

  • Plan ahead. Sit down together, brainstorm what activities you would like to do, search for community events that you are both interested in. Planning ahead reduces the level of stress and helps keep everybody on the same page.
  • Maintain rapport with the parent/guardian. If something is going on, work together to make the situation better before it blows up.
  • Be creative. Don't let yourself get into a rut, it's not fair to you or the Little.
  • Set a budget for your outings. Be open about the budget with the Little. This will help the Little learn about fiscal responsibility as well as limiting the impact on your wallet.
  • Have fun! Big Brothers Big Sisters is not a tutoring organization, nor is it a free babysitting service. Do things that you will enjoy. The important thing is to encourage the Little to explore new experiences and to build a positive relationship with him/her.

Big Brothers Big Sisters can be an incredibly rewarding experience for the volunteer as well as for the child. It allows you to revisit some of your childhood experiences (good and bad) and see them in another light. It also helps you become more in tune with the community - believe me, it takes a lot of searching and some real creativity to find new activities. But I think the best part is seeing a child smiling up at you in unspoken thanks.

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