Sometimes in life, it’s about just having someone in your corner, and that’s precisely why Big Brothers Big Sisters of Central Indiana (BBBSCI) exists. Big Brothers Association and Big Sisters International were founded more than 100 years ago, pairing volunteers with children to help children grow their sense of self-worth and reach their potential. The two entities joined forces in 1977 to become Big Brothers Big Sisters of America. Through the years, countless relationships have been formed that have changed the lives of all involved.
The value of the program is evident by the statistics. Data shows that 95% of the kids going through the BBBS program have improved or maintained their attitudes towards risky behavior, 94% have improved or maintained their views around social acceptance, and 92% have improved or maintained their grades. The stats don’t tell the full story, however – the stories themselves do.
Charles Stringer is the volunteer outreach and engagement coordinator with BBBSCI. One of the most frequent pieces of feedback he hears from “Bigs” is that they initially volunteered simply to give back to their community. They were shocked to find, however, that what they gained was equal to what they had given their “Little.” For instance, while Little Brother Tristan says that spending time with his Big, Alex, has made him more social and less shy, Big Brother Alex says hanging with Tristan makes him feel younger.
“I get to geek out about ‘Star Wars’ and Pokémon with someone now,” he says.
A Little named Rogan appreciates the one-on-one aspect of hanging out with someone who shares similar interests, and his Big, Rob, has been pleasantly surprised that the Little he mentors is now serving as a mentor to Rob’s own children.
“My kids look up to Rogan, which wasn’t something I expected,” Rob says. “They’re always excited when he comes around.”
Kids aged 8 to 14 are matched with an adult mentor. They do things one-on-one in the community. The activities Bigs and Littles engage in is totally up to them. Sometimes they chill at a park or go to a movie. Perhaps they play ball or attend a free event like a Pacers game, courtesy of BBBSCI.
“I know of a match where the Big and Little go out for ice cream,” Stringer says. “That may seem like a small thing, but it’s a space and time the two have reserved to have conversations. That consistent interaction has been transformative for both of them.”
Matt Vukusich, mentoring relationship specialist for BBBSCI, introduces the Big and Little to each other, periodically checks in with the pair, gauges for resources and coaches them along the path of building a relationship. What each Little wants to get out of the program can be very different. When the matches first meet, they set goals together with their Mentoring Relationship Specialist and the family. Some are academically focused while others are more interested in just having fun.
Vukusich established a match that started when the Little was a freshman in high school.
“Those matches sometimes are a bit tougher because it can be hard to win over a teenager,” Vukusich says. The boy was into dirt bikes, however, so BBBSCI paired him with a Big who also owned a dirt bike. The two met at a park in Greenwood and the bike connection immediately won over the Little.
“They have been great from the get-go,” Vukusich says. “They ride dirt bikes on the Big’s property.”
These regular interactions instill confidence in the Little and help them feel accepted so that they can be their honest, authentic self.
Stringer recalls the time a Little was being bullied in middle school. Prior to being matched, he handled it the way many kids might – by lashing out in anger. That reaction ended up exacerbating the problem. After getting paired with a Big who offered advice on how best to respond, the boy showed his bullies that their words, while hurtful, weren’t going to elicit the same reaction going forward.
“Basically, he quit the cycle of the reactions that were continuing to fuel this feud,” Stringer says. “As a result, the frequency of the bullying decreased, and the Little began performing better in school.”
Volunteerism dropped during the pandemic. At the same time, however, BBBSCI saw a large increase in the number of kids requesting mentors.
“It was a challenging time, and I don’t begrudge anyone, but the pandemic cut our volunteer inquiry numbers in half, so now we’re working our way back from there,” Stringer says. BBBSCI asks for a one-year commitment from their volunteers and families, including between four and six hours per month.
“Given that the average American adult spends four hours a day on their phone, we are essentially asking for that same amount of time but spread over a month,” Stringer says.
While the number of Johnson County kids who are awaiting a mentor match is smaller than in Marion County, the duration of time that the kids wait is significantly longer. In fact, Littles in Johnson County wait an average of two years to get matched with a Big.
“I just want the community to know that we have a lot of kids waiting for mentors in Central Indiana and across the board,” Stringer says. “I hope to get people energized and involved to be part of changing that.”
Right now, BBBBSCI is focusing on recruiting male mentors in their campaign, Men to Mentors: 75 Male Mentors in 75 Days. Throughout this campaign, you’ll be able to find BBBSCI in Johnson County with information on how you can get involved. If you are ready to take the first step, head to bebigforkids.org/volunteers and connect with them on Facebook, Instagram or Twitter.