Andrea was being raised by a single mother who worked two jobs to support her and her siblings. Because Andrea didn’t get to spend quality time with her mother, she became withdrawn at school and had difficulty making friends.
“I would cry every day when my mother took me to school because I knew that I would be asleep when she got home from work,” said Andrea. “I would spend my lunchtime in the classroom with my teachers because I wanted an adult to pay attention to me.”
Her teacher suggested that her mother enroll her in the Big Brothers Big Sisters mentoring program. Andrea was matched to Joanna who helped Andrea build self-confidence, develop important social skills, and plan for her future.
“By being a consistent friend and role model, Joanne helped me come out of my shell,” Andrea said. “She encouraged me to speak up for myself, to make friends, and to think about my future.”
Andrea is now 24, a college graduate, and a successful professional. She is also a Big Sister to Mayandy, a girl who is growing up in the same neighborhood as she did and is in need of a positive role model.
Big Brothers Big Sisters of Central Arizona is actively recruiting girls to be Little Sisters in its mentoring program. A number women volunteers have answered the call to become mentors, and girls who are enrolling now will be matched to mentors quickly.
“This is actually a good problem to have because it means we can provide even more girls with positive, adult role models,” said Susan Wiltfong, Vice President of Programs, who has been with BBBSAZ for 29 years. “We’re working with schools, family service agencies, and community partners to reach out to parents and let them know that we are enrolling girls ages 6 to 15.”
Parents recognize the potential of their children better than anyone, and by giving them the opportunity to be part of Big Brothers Big Sisters, they are starting them down a path to an even brighter, more promising future. Girls (Little Sisters) enrolled in the mentoring program meet at least two times per month with their mentors (Big Sisters) and spend time doing activities they both enjoy. Whether it’s hiking, going to the movies, eating pizza, or going to the library, the most important thing is that the girl has a consistent, positive, adult role model to help them build confidence and explore interests. The family and volunteer are asked to commit to one year, yet the average match length is more than two years. Some matches last until the child turns 18, and some Bigs and Littles maintain friendships that continue for 10, 20, and 30 years.
Children enrolled in BBBSAZ programs come from different backgrounds and have varied experiences, but the one thing they have in common is they want to have a mentor.
“That’s the most important question we ask because if the child doesn’t want to be in the program, the match will not be successful and will close,” said Wiltfong.
As part of the enrollment process, the parent provides information about the child’s interests and strengths, and approves the selection of the Big Sister. Once the match starts, BBBSAZ case workers maintain ongoing contact with the parent, the child, and the volunteer to ensure that the relationship between the child and volunteer is growing, and the parent is seeing positive progress with regard to the child’s academic performance, behavior, confidence, and outlook.
All volunteers go through an extensive, multilayered screening process that includes an application, interview, background check, and reference check. They are matched with a child based on location and mutual interests. Parents often comment that the care and attention that goes into making sure the Big and Little are a good match has a direct impact on the longevity and success of the match.
Research shows that children who have mentors are less likely to skip school, less likely to engage in risky behaviors, are more likely to become active in extracurricular activities at school, and are more likely volunteer in their community. Last year, 65% of the youth enrolled in the BBBSAZ program during their senior year of high school are now in college, and many credit their Big with encouraging them to do so.
Parents and guardians who wish to enroll their children in the BBBSAZ program can start by visiting bbbsaz.org or calling (602) 264-9254.