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Making a BIG Difference With a LITTLE Friendship: How Mentoring Addresses Poverty

AmeriCorps VISTA Laura Aldrich shares her initial thoughts about Big Brothers Big Sisters of Tucson and the great work they do.
      
       It is intimidating to take on the fight against poverty. The problem is so ingrained within our society with various causes and perpetuating outcomes that it seems an almost insurmountable battle. I recognize that as an AmeriCorps VISTA I am unable to tear down any of the constructs of poverty completely. However, I have a chance to make a dent in the fight by building and expanding upon programs already in place in my role as the Site-Based Program Developer for Big Brothers Big Sisters of Tucson, Arizona.  I will be working for a national name, a staple in youth development, and the biggest mentoring organization across the United States, which though a little intimidating is ultimately exciting. In the course of one week, I have learned about the very big heart of Big Brothers Big Sisters. I have met Bigs (adult mentors) and Littles (mentorees that have an age range from 7 to 18), sat in on interviews and the whole matching process. I have been introduced to all parts and people involved with making this organization tick, and it is quite the fantastical set of gears.

      Big Brothers Big Sisters is a premier mentoring organization who have proven that strong and enduring one-to-one mentoring relationships can positively impact the lives of children facing adversity. That can mean children who live in extreme poverty, who experience bullying, who have a poor family life, or who simply need a positive influence. Supported throughout the match by a strong team of program coordinators, children have presented positive outcomes, including, but not limited to, improved academic performance and attendance, increased self-confidence, and less chance of engaging in unhealthy or violent behaviors. Though the majority of mentoring matches that make up Big Brothers Big Sisters of Tucson are based within the community, I will be working specifically with the smaller Site-Based Program. This program traditionally focuses on mentoring relationships that meet once a week at the child’s school. My predecessors, the previous VISTAs, have worked to increase the scope and reach of the site-based program by expanding to new schools and increasing the number of site-based matches. I will be taking on a slightly different role and be expanding the site-based program in a new direction by pursuing volunteers and partnerships with corporate businesses.

      Currently, the site-based program attracts many college students who do not have a car and are only able to walk to a partnering school. Unfortunately, this limits the locations of the site-based programs to schools near the university as it becomes harder to match Bigs for the children farther away. In order to reach more children and increase the longevity of matches, we must expand our volunteer pool. There has been great success in the Beyond School Walls program first introduced by Big Brothers Big Sisters of Southeastern Pennsylvania. They partnered with Comcast to initiate a program where Littles would be paired with Comcast employees to talk, to play games, to do crafts, and to ultimately enjoy time together, which would forge a mentoring relationship with the child. This not only leads to the improved outcomes we have seen from the community based model, but also exposes the children to ways they can achieve success in the classroom and beyond by introducing them to career paths, while at the same time promoting volunteerism within the corporation.

      Here at Big Brothers Big Sisters of Tucson we are in the beginning stages of piloting our own corporate volunteering partnership. Hopefully, once the groundwork is laid, the months of August and September will be quite busy recruiting our Bigs and Littles, making matches, and supporting those relationships. If all goes well, the rest of the year will be spent further developing corporate and business partnerships for other site-based school programs throughout Tucson and ensuring the sustainability of the program.

      I am thrilled to be a part of this new initiative and thankful to play a role in such a big hearted organization. I was lucky enough to have dependable and inspiring adults within my life and I am excited to be part of ensuring other children do too. Mentoring alone cannot overcome the insurmountable barriers of poverty in our society, but it can leave a positive impact in the life of a child giving them the resiliency, self-confidence, and hope to break through those barriers of adversity.

Published on August 17, 2015 by Spencer Brown.

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