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Making a BIG Difference with a LITTLE Time

By Laura Williams, Community and School-Based Program Manager

Before I began employment with Big Brothers Big Sisters of South Central West Virginia, I had a vague idea of what I thought it meant to be a Big. I assumed you had to have plenty of free time. I assumed you needed lots of special training and qualifications. I assumed you would be matched for a short amount of time. I assumed wrong.

In West Virginia, the public school truancy rate tops 30% statewide, with some counties topping 50%. Our state is infamous for prescription pill and illegal drug addiction, with our drug overdose rate doubling the national average at 34 deaths per 100,000 residents and a new heroin epidemic sweeping the region. More than 6% of West Virginia youth are raised by grandparents or other family members—the highest rate in the nation. The children affected by these statistics are the children that we primarily serve through our program. They are living at or below the poverty line, being raised by single parents, grandparents, or other family members. They are children who do not have the opportunities other families might be able to provide, due to lack of transportation, funds, or available adults. They are children who need a Big.

I had a preconceived idea of what a Big Brother or Sister was and did, and it quickly went out the window as I began to learn more about what the program was all about. Our volunteers make a BIG difference by giving just a LITTLE time: in our community-based programs, we ask Bigs to spend 2 hours with their Little every two weeks, with calls or texts in between outings. In our school-based program, Bigs visit their Littles on school grounds for roughly an hour a week. Our volunteers do not need any special qualifications—they must have a clean background check and a desire to improve the life of a youth. Big Brothers Big Sisters provides all necessary training via online training modules and ongoing professional support for the length of the match relationship. This is all done to promote the longevity of the match. Bigs are asked to commit to a one-year relationship with their Little, but many of our matches extend far beyond that. Our average match length in our community-based program is more than three years!

When you first become involved with Big Brothers Big Sisters, it doesn’t take long to realize that impact that it has on both Bigs and Littles and their families.  If you ask a Little about their Big, they will say things like, “My Big is my favorite person,” and “I don’t know where I would be without my Big.” And the impact doesn’t stop there. Through participation in Big Brothers Big Sisters, we have had Littles who have met Shaquille O’Neal and families participate in events like the circus or Marvel Live! So many say thank you later, explaining “I wouldn’t have been able to treat my family to something like this on my own.” Those experiences are something that Big Brothers Big Sisters of South Central West Virginia strives to create for each participant—the chance to see new and exciting things and to explore a world outside their home neighborhood.

So how can others help us in our goal of creating long-lasting, professionally supported mentoring relationships for these youth? The first is exactly what you are doing right now: educate yourself about the program.

Below are statistics that illustrate exactly how effective our program is:

With a mentor, youth are:

  • 55% more likely to enroll in college
  • 78% more likely to volunteer in their community regularly
  • 130% more likely to hold leadership positions
  • 52% less likely to skip a day of school
  • 46% less likely to use illegal drugs
  • 27% less likely to begin drinking alcohol
  • 81% more likely to play sports or enroll in extracurricular activities.

The second way to support our program is to become a Big. As I mentioned earlier, the qualifications are simple: a clear background check and a desire to help local youth through a mentoring relationship. The application process is just as easy. Simply visit, click on the “get involved” tab, and fill out the form. Once your application is submitted, a Big Brothers Big Sisters staff member will contact you to schedule an interview. During the interview, we will gather more information about your interests and personality to help us match you with the best Little. We will also provide you with online training that can be done at your convenience to enhance your match relationship.

A third way to support the mission of Big Brothers Big Sisters is to donate. Each dollar we receive goes towards matching an at-risk youth with a Big Brother or Big Sister who will provide a stable, positive influence in his or her life. Any amount, big or little, will help us to reach that goal.

I hope that you will join us in our mission to change the life of a child for the better, forever. Rita Pierson, a lifelong educator, said in a TED talk recently, “Every child deserves a champion, an adult who will never give up on them, who understands the power of connection and insists that they become the best they can possibly be.” Will you join us and be a champion for children?

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