Mentorship Program Matches “Big” with “Little”

Mark B. is a lawyer in New Rochelle, a northern suburb of New York. Tysaun is a 14-year-old from nearby Mount Vernon and is what some would call an ‘at risk’ kid. In September 2021, Big Brothers Big Sisters of Westchester County paired them up, making Mark a “Big” and Tysaun a “Little.”

The charity is a youth mentoring organization that serves children facing adversity to help them stay in school and away from violence and drugs while helping them to achieve their full potential in life. This mission is accomplished through one-on-one mentoring relationships in a “Big-Little” model that pairs adult volunteers with children ages 7-17.

The majority of these children come from single-parent families and many are in foster care.

“What they really lack is a positive role model,” Rikki Childs, assistant director of the Westchester chapter, told The Epoch Times.

“Some of our little ones, some of our children, come from difficult households, difficult homes. There may be gang violence in their neighborhood; there may be gang violence in their home,” she said, noting that this is why parents seek out the program. “They are looking for someone to get them out of this kind of situation.”

Big Brothers Big Sisters is nothing new; it has existed nationally since 1904 and the Westchester chapter has existed since 1958. What is new is the recent COVID-19 pandemic which shut down the country for months. But that didn’t stop the Westchester chapter from continuing, making 118 new games during that time.

The staff know that playing the best game is what leads to success. If a Big just likes art museums and a Little just likes pro wrestling, they’re not going to be a good match, so the staff does their best to make sure the two have similar interests. However, part of what they do is introduce themselves to topics they may not have considered before.

“Sometimes it doesn’t happen,” said Childs, who has worked for the organization for 17 years. “Sometimes we have three Small and three Big, and they’re not compatible.”

That’s when the staff reaches out to find matches for the unmatched.

“The program requires a meeting commitment of four to six hours a month — or what we like to say is two outings a month — for a commitment of at least a year,” Childs said.

At this point, the couple is asked if they wish to continue.

“The majority of games do. Sometimes we don’t even have to ask,” she said, “because it’s just a natural yes.”

However, on occasion a Big or a Little will be disallowed before a match is even attempted.

In the Mark-Tysaun situation, Mark was looking for ways to support his black community, and Tysaun urgently needed a positive role model. His mother saw his grades decline as he became involved with negative influences in the neighborhood. The match was exactly what they both needed.

Mark knew it would take time to establish a trust-based relationship with Tysaun and didn’t want to come across as a nag when it came to schoolwork, so their first bi-weekly escapades often went out to eat at restaurants, so they could talk.

Tysaun’s mother told the program manager that Mark was exactly the person her son needed in his life and that she really appreciated what he had done so far.

Currently, Westchester has a backlog of female Bigs, waiting to be matched with female Littles. There are about 60 Littles on the waiting list, mostly boys.

Sometimes parents contact Big Brothers Big Sisters themselves; other times they may be referred to the charity by a social worker, doctor or judge. In the event of a shortage of Littles, the organization will carry out its own awareness campaign.

The cost of all activities a pair engages in is borne by the Big. However, the organization emphasizes low-cost or free activities, such as picnics, homework, and arts and crafts.

Right off the bat, games are needed to establish three goals. Program managers follow up to see how far they have come in achieving them.

There have been matches that lasted 10 years. The chapter’s retention rate is currently at 84%, which means pairs continue beyond the one-year commitment 84% of the time.

Nationally, about 98% of Littles do not engage in substance abuse, while 2% do.

“We do a lot of research [with the Littles]”, Childs said, noting that they find “good things and sometimes not so good things,” like experimenting with drugs.

While Big Brothers Big Sisters of Westchester reports to Big Brothers Big Sisters of America, the national office does not fund affiliates. Westchester raises its own funds to operate through grants and donations and actually pays fees to the national office for the use of its databases.

The question every mother asks when enrolling her child is, “When will I have a Big?” Childs finds it difficult to answer this question because there are so many factors in producing a match.

“It’s kind of hard for us to say because we don’t know when this perfect Big is going to come through the door,” she said. “We kind of say, ‘It might take two days, it might take two months, sometimes it might take two years; we just don’t know.

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Dave Paone covers New York.

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