According to Kamelia Fisher, president and CEO of Big Brothers Big Sisters of East Central Ohio, Ernest Coulter founded Big Brothers in New York City in 1904. Coulter, a clerk of the juvenile court at the time, was appalled by the suffering of the thousands of children who repeatedly came through the court system. At a meeting of civic and business leaders on Dec. 4, 1904, Coulter appealed to those present to take on the role of a “Big Brother.”
“All forty men present stepped forward and helped to create the movement, which is now known as Big Brothers Big Sisters of America (BBBS),” Fisher explained. “At the same time, on the other side of town, similar work was being done by a group of women who befriended girls who came before the children’s court. This developed into the organization that later became Big Sisters.”
Since those first days in 1904, Big Brothers and Big Sisters programs formed throughout the country and have become the leading youth mentoring organization in the United States today.
“The program is very successful,” Fisher shared. “In 2011 we were able to match 17 children with adults in Holmes County alone. Nine children remain on the waiting list to be matched with someone and several children are in the process of being approved and will be added to the waiting list. In Wayne County in 2011, 14 children were matched with a mentor, while 25 are waiting on a mentor, with several others in the processing stage.”
The program is open to children ages 4-18. The children are enrolled in the program after completion of an interview with the child and parent and information is given from supporting agencies such as counselors, teachers and other community organizations. Once enrolled, BBBS works hard to match the child with a mentor whose interests, location and abilities match those of the child. Also the parent, child and the mentor all must agree to the match before it is finalized.
“Once a match is agreed upon, a match meeting is arranged for introductions and to develop a match plan to ensure the needs of the child are met,” Fisher said. “The match receives ongoing support from a BBBSECO case manager who stays in contact with all parties, facilitates regular match meetings with all parties and helps the mentor and the child if problems or concerns arise.”
The program sees many success stories and is a vital link to creating caring and healthy relationships. Fisher feels blessed to be involved in something that makes such a positive impact.
“We do see many successes in the program,” she said. “At our recent annual dinner in January, we had the honor of recognizing a mentor as our ‘Big of the Year’. Her ‘Little’, who is fifteen-years-old now, resides with his grandmother due to the death of his mother when he was five. When he was first enrolled in the program, he had poor self esteem, poor hygiene and no goals or friends. Today he is outgoing and interested in many things that she has introduced him to; he has friends and, most of all, he has dreams for the future. He actually performed an impromptu song for our dinner that evening. The changes in this young man during the past two-years have been truly remarkable.”
Despite the great impact this program has on young people and the community overall, the need for mentors is ongoing. Fisher shared that due to the length of time children spend on the waiting list, some parents are hesitant to enroll them at all. Also, since children are matched on the basis of their compatibility with the mentor and not on the length of time they have been on the list, it can take longer or a match can be made very quickly.
“You could be matched immediately if the appropriate mentor is available, but longer if compatibility is an issue,” Fisher explained. “Male mentors represent our greatest need because, on the average, females apply to be mentors four times as often as males, therefore girls are matched much quicker than boys. We do support cross gender matches with female mentors matched with boys as well as couple mentors matched with a child. If we suddenly had a great influx of mentors, we could easily recruit and enroll more children. There will always be a need for mentors due to the increasing number of children that are vulnerable and at risk.”
The protection and safety of the child is the number one priority with the program and as a result, all mentors complete an extensive enrollment process.
“They are interviewed and fingerprinted for a comprehensive background check,” Fisher added. “We also conduct a reference check, a driving record check as well as a home inspection. The match and their interaction with the child are also carefully monitored by a BBBS case manager who regularly communicates with the parent, the child and the mentor.”
Individuals that choose to become BBBS mentors receive training at the time of enrollment and on an ongoing basis to assist them to meet the needs of their ‘Littles.’ BBBS staff provides support and training as needed in each situation. Mentors are asked to spend time with their ‘Little’ at least two to four times a month.
“BBBS involve all kinds of people, from high school and college students to business people to retirees, who will volunteer to spend time with children,” Fisher said. “Mentors sometimes spend as little as one hour each week with a child in need and it makes a great difference. Through this mentoring program, both children and adults share everyday experiences that enrich the lives of all involved.”
Never underestimate the power a caring adult can make in the life of a child and it only takes a few hours a month. Big Brothers Big Sisters is the only national mentoring organization with the primary mission of one-to-one mentoring with friendship at its cornerstone. Would you like to have a healthy impact on your community and society? Do you have a few extra hours a month to change someone’s life? Can you be a friend to a child in your area? If you can, contact Kamelia Fisher at 330-339-6916 or 888-364-5965. She will gladly give you any information you need about the BBBS program.
Published: March 1, 2012