They’re known as “bigs” and “littles.”
The local organization that pairs up adult mentors with children aged 6-12 who need them for 42 towns in Central Mass./Metrowest area, including Holliston, is known as Big Brothers Big Sisters of Central Mass./Metrowest, one of 300 such organizations in the country, but one of just a handful in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts.
“Our “bigs” (adults) are all volunteers, they donate their time to become a mentor or friend to a local child in their area,” says Jackie Lyon, Assistant Director of Marketing and Special Events for the organization. The organization offers two different models for its mentoring program. Through “base mentoring,” Big Brothers Big Sisters partners with local schools and after-school programs that already exist and pairs them up with universities or corporate groups to match bigs and littles by personalities and shared interests. Often, she says, a teacher will point out a need for an extra level of support for the student population.
In its “community-based mentoring” model, the one Lyon says most people often associate with the organization, “the big basically decides they want to volunteer. We find out where they live, who they are, what they do, and what they’re interested in, and then we match them with a child, based on location. We do try to make sure our bigs are matched with children a reasonable distance away.” For example, someone quiet, who likes to play games would most likely not be matched with a little who wants to be outside playing sports, says Lyons.
The community based program, says Lyons, succeeds best with a strong level of parental support.
“Typically, parents hear about it through word of mouth,” says Lyons. Parents often have been served by a program or have heard about Big Brothers Big Sisters through social service agencies and notice their child needs extra support, she says. “Typically, children come from single-family homes, and they are at greater risk for many different things,” she says. Often, she says, these children, with great potential, come from low-income families, some with significant family members in jail or who are “missing some key areas. They need a friend, somebody to listen to them, with resources to take them out to experiences the community – even just the time resources.”
Lyons says bigs are not expected to spend a lot of money, however.
“We don’t expect that at all. Some will take their little out to lunch or something like that, but there is no expectation, and we do often get a lot of great activity options for kids donated. A local theatre will donate tickets to see their shows or a major sports team will donate tickets.” Lyons, in fact, says her organization is working on offering more opportunities for exposure to the arts and to STEM activities for their matches. “A lot of opportunities come for free, which is awesome,” she says, “but I think the biggest thing is the time resource. If you come from a single parent home, your parent, as much as they want to be able to do all that stuff for you, they just don’t have the time,” says Lyons.
Adults who are thinking of joining the program are asked to commit to being a big for at least a year.
“It’s hard to make a significant impact with less than a year,” says Lyons. A child, she says, may already have experienced relationships with people who are in and out of their lives. “We do hope they stay longer than (a year),” she says.
Big Brothers Big Sisters’ greatest area of need right now is for male mentors.
“In pretty much every community we serve, the greatest struggle is recruiting men,” says Lyons, who says that’s fairly common for a lot of nonprofit volunteers in general. “A lot of young boys can really benefit a confident male figure in their lives.”
What makes a good big?
“Somebody who is stable in their life,” says Lyons. “You don’t want a big who is going through a lot of changes. (You want someone) who is living where they live for some foreseeable future, committed, who honors commitments, cares about children, is open-minded to new experiences, and non-judgmental.” Bigs, she says can be of any adult age.
In the “base mentoring” program that works with universities and companies, she says, bigs are often college age, “but we don’t take college kids for our community based program because of the fact that they leave for summers, or graduate, or go away.” In the community program, she says, bigs are anywhere from age 22 to their late 70s.
Big Brother Big Sister of Central Mass./Metrowest is also working on recruiting more bigs with various ethnic backgrounds.
“Most of our children are of color, and most of our bigs are Caucasian,” says Lyons. “We are very interested in showing our littles more people as mentors that look like them.”
Parents can be bigs, too, but “(parents are) asked not to bring their children—so that focus can be on the little, but many of our bigs are parents,” says Lyon. This way, young people in the program are never made to feel second tier to biological children of their mentors.
If you would like to explore being a mentor with Big Brother Big Sister of Central Mass./Metrowest, visit www.bbbscm.org.
Potential volunteers, says Lyons, “can visit our website and fill out a quick list form, and we get in touch with them,” she says.
Big Brother Big Sister of Central Mass./Metrowest can also be reached at (508) 752-7868.
They’re known as “bigs” and “littles.”