Big Brothers Big Sisters Program: Mentoring “Littles” with Big Results

The Big Brothers Big Sisters program was created from a belief that every child – no matter their background or upbringing – should be given the opportunity to reach their full potential – both as an individual and as part of a social group. The program focuses on the idea that by helping to change the course of a young person’s life through positive influence and guidance, it could be possible to change the future of a community – leading to a reduction in things such as unemployment and poverty.

Today, the Big Brothers Big Sisters program has been making positive changes within the lives of youth across the nation for around a century – through the development and implementation of various mentoring programs. The program involves both one-to-one mentoring options and group programs that can take place inside and outside of academic school grounds.

The mentors that join the program serve as role models to their little brother or sister by teaching exemplary behaviors such as staying in school, showing respect to family members, and getting involved with the community on a positive level.

Hyde has a longstanding partnership with our local Big Brothers, Big Sisters chapter. Every Monday afternoon a group of about a dozen Hyde students head across the street to our local elementary school, Fischer-Mitchell. There, Hyde students have built a reputation among directors of the program as outgoing, energetic, and engaged ‘Bigs’ who really take the time to build a relationship with their ‘little.’

How Does Big Brothers Big Sisters Work?

The Big Brothers Big Sisters program works as a mentoring program within the community that matches youngsters between the ages of six and eighteen, usually from single-parent or low-income households, with young volunteer mentors between the ages of 20 and 34. These volunteers are usually well-educated college graduates that have been assessed as being capable of providing a positive role model for their younger “siblings”. As of right now, the program has matched over 42,000 children across the nation with volunteer mentors, but the initiative is still aiming to find matches for the thousands of youth that are sitting on their waiting lists.

For a child to be entered into the program, their parent or guardian has to apply for them to be matched with a mentor through a parent/child interview and written application. Potential mentors are then screened by a Big Brothers Big Sisters case worker using a home visit, personal interview, criminal, background, and reference check – to ensure that they are not a risk to the safety of the child, and can form a positive relationship with them. Before the match is made, the parent and youth will both meet with a potential mentor, and the completion of the match will depend on approval being awarded by the parent.

Usually, once a match has been approved, the youth and mentor team will often meet around two to four times a month for at least a year, engaging in various activities of their choosing – from cooking, to playing sports, and even studying for school. Most meetings last anywhere between three and four hours. During that first year, Big Brothers Big Sisters case workers will maintain constant monthly contact with the mentors in the scheme, as well as the parents of the youth. This helps to ensure a positive match, and may assist in resolving any problems evident within the relationship. Generally, mentors will be encouraged to form supportive friendships with their youths, rather than trying to change their behavior or character.

Proven Effectiveness

Many schools, parents, and communities consider the Big Brothers Big Sisters program to be one of the most effective youth mentoring solutions around, and the data is enough to back that concept up. The results of recent studies have contributed to a constantly-expanding amount of evidence that the youth mentoring programs offered by Big Brothers Big Sisters provide significant economic, social, and personal benefits.

One study, by Phillip Levine of Wellesley College, outlines various findings of the efficiency of the Big Brothers Big Sisters mentoring programs. Levine has found that the model includes five elements that are essential for long-term solutions for youths facing adversity:

  1. Screening of mentors
  2. Screening of mentees
  3. Training of mentors
  4. Matches based on preferences
  5. Supervision of the match relationship

Levine’s assessment also found that the annual cost of supporting a single community-based match through the Big Brothers Big Sisters solution is around $1,500. However, through an analysis that converts grade-point averages to life-time wages, he also found that the economic benefits of the program exceed the cost by a ratio of five to one, making mentoring problems a hugely beneficial investment.

Another study, commissioned by Big Brothers Big Sisters of New York City and conducted by the Philliber Research Associates, found that one-on-one mentoring lead to a significant decrease in various risk factors among youth. Following a period of around fifteen months in a one-on-one relationship for mentoring, youth in the study experienced a 21% decline in various risk factors, including:

  • School absenteeism
  • Drug and alcohol use
  • Violent behavior

The same study discovered that non-mentored youths had a 14% increase on the same risk factors. The Philliber research project learned that one-on-one mentoring was beneficial to both boys and girls, and that the first positive relationships were often reported around six months after the mentoring relationship began.

Promoting a Better Future

Research suggests that young people with mentors in their lives generally achieve higher levels of academic success, develop better relationships with families and peers, and often make better choices throughout the course of their lives. Whenever a child is paired with a new mentor as part of the Big Brothers Big Sisters program, a ripple of change is started that helps to promote a better future.

Often, the children involved in these programs experience an almost immediate transformation from a concerned youth into a confident and motivated youngster. The people behind the initiative, and those that become involved with it often find that seeing troubled youths growing into responsible and successful members of society is a beautiful and inspiring thing. After all, if children really are the future, then it makes sense that communities should come together and do everything they can to ensure that future is bright.

With the Hyde and Fischer-Mitchell partnership, activities over the years have included everything from building spaghetti/marshmallow towers to flying kites to painting old tennis shoes and planting flowers in them. Our school-based Big Brothers Big Sisters program continues to be an inspiration for our students and a vital way to give back to our local community.