Hello! My name is Katie Kernodle and I am an AmeriCorps VISTA member currently serving with Big Brothers Big Sisters in Tucson, AZ as their Volunteer Recruitment Coordinator.
Big Brothers Big Sisters has existed for over 100 years, founded in 1904 by Ernest Coulter, and currently serves all 50 states and 12 countries around the world. Big Brothers Big Sisters of Tucson (BBBST) has been a fixture in the community for over 50 years, providing girls and boys with professionally-supported one-to-one mentoring relationships that can change their lives.
BBBST serves children who demonstrate at least one “need”, which can include poverty, single-parent households, limited exposure to Tucson, being an only child, being the only boy/girl, developmental or intellectual disabilities, history of abuse, and much more. By providing the child with a stable, reliable adult, outside of their family, who is choosing to be their friend and hang out with them, we help children see their worth and feel supported. This in turn leads to remarkable outcomes in attitudes and actions toward school, friends, family, risk, and, most importantly, themselves.
These outcomes, of course, rely on recruiting the best volunteers who are willing to commit to a child for at least one year. As the last of three VISTAs on this grant, the ultimate goal of my work at BBBST is to finishing building an efficient recruitment infrastructure that will allow the organization to continue drawing in volunteers without the need for a full-time position dedicated to doing so. As a non-profit, BBBST works with limited resources, so it is my hope that there will be systems, partnerships, and procedures in place, so that when I leave, volunteer recruitment will take less time and resources than when previously done.
One of the best and worst parts of recruiting for such a well-known organization is that pretty much everyone I come in contact with knows who we are and assumes that they know what we do. So while most are aware that we serve youth (and think positively of this), too often people think they know exactly what “our kids” are like and assume they are not suitable to mentor them. They believe they need to possess some special “skill” or have experience with “troubled children” in order to effectively mentor them, when in actuality all that is required is for someone to show up and be themselves. Outings are not counseling sessions, but hang outs where you get to play with a kid and have fun. In my opinion, these preconceptions are unfortunately one of the biggest barriers we face as an organization in trying to recruit volunteers to be Bigs.
Despite the challenging nature of volunteer recruitment, my VISTA position with BBBST is exceptionally rewarding and I appreciate the opportunity to serve such a remarkable organization.
If you know of any quality men or women in the Tucson community, who you think could be a good mentor, refer them to BBBST to learn more about how much fun mentoring a child can be! And on March 4th and 5th, we will be holding our 35th Annual Bowl for Kids’ Sake fundraiser at Bowling Pins Lanes. Go to www.tucsonbigs.org/event/bowl-for-kids-sake-2016 to learn more and sign up as a bowling team to help fundraise.