Mentoring guides kids to make better life choices

A Little of your time each week makes a Big impact on a kid's life.

Big Brothers Big Sisters of Northern Nevada (BBBSNN) is an organization near and dear to my heart. BBBSN matches an adult mentor with a child under the poverty line for a one-on-one mentoring relationship. They call the adults in the program “Bigs” and the children “Littles”. Back in October 2016, I was matched with my Little, Concha through BBBSNN.

What I didn’t expect was that my 9 year old Little would truly become one of my best friends. Concha and I spend a few hours together each week and do all sorts of fun, simple activities around town. My favorite activity together was indoor roller skating at Roller Kingdom. Concha loved eating at the grilled cheese shop, Gourmelt, which is close to the University of Nevada campus. Every time a college student with a backpack on walked in, Concha leaned over our grilled cheeses and excitedly whispered to me “Is that a college student?!” I could go on and on about how wonderful Concha is and how much I love being a Big.

Concha and I
I love spending time with my Little because I get to be a kid again! Here’s my Little and I roller skating a few months ago.
Being a Big means that with only a few hours of my time each week, I can make a direct impact on a child’s life. Before I even met Concha, BBBSNN fully trained me on what to expect for my Little’s specific situation. As an engineer-brain, I was impressed by the data driven research that BBBSNN utilizes to match Bigs and Littles, as well as their consistent support even after you’re matched. And that’s where Mandy Olson comes in- she’s my Match Support Specialist. People like Mandy are what makes being a Big incredible. Anytime that I have a question, concern, or want to share a story about Concha, Mandy is there for me.

Mandy’s background is in Spanish and Social Work, and she’s a licensed Social Worker. Mandy was drawn to the proactive aspect of BBBSNN and appreciates working for a great cause with a measurable impact. Their 2016 Annual Report details the positive difference that BBBSNN makes in the Northern Nevada community.

But let’s not talk numbers right now- what Mandy had to say was much more interesting:

Proactive mentoring provides consistency, encouragement for kids

Mandy Olson
Mandy Olson, Big Brothers Big Sisters Match Support Specialist

“I wanted to work in an environment where we were being proactive. My hat goes off to all those social workers working in protective services. But protective services are reactive- someone’s been exploited or abused, and you’re addressing the concern after it happened. One thing that I really like about Big Brothers Big Sisters is that it’s proactive. If we can provide stability, consistency, and somebody encouraging the kids to make good choices for themselves, than hopefully we can redirect them to make better life choices than they may be making if they hadn’t had that mentor in their life. That’s not to say that all of our kiddos would’ve ended up in jail or something like that, but when they don’t have the support at home, having someone consistent and supportive in their life will hopefully help them before they go down the wrong path.”

“I was also drawn to this because we work with a large Latino population which is near and dear to my heart. Being able to use my Spanish on a daily basis is huge. Outside of the mentoring part, this is a great place to work. Having an environment that takes their employees needs outside of the workplace into consideration makes me more dedicated to my job. I want to be supportive and productive, because I know that I have higher ups supportive of my wellbeing. And you know, the job is challenging, but we make measurable change. You can see our statistics for kids living in poverty in our program as opposed to those kids in poverty that don’t have a mentor. 86% percent of kids in our program graduate from high school, where the Washoe county rate is 65% for similarly disadvantaged kids. It makes a difference.”

Happiness comes from being able to support other people

“We ask for a commitment, a year of two hours a week. Just talking to any volunteer, I think it’s important that you realize happiness comes from being able to help support other people. This is a great opportunity. And how much fun is a kid?! If it’s a really good fit, it’s like having a little mini-me. I think personally that those two hours a week are obviously benefiting the kid and hopefully the family. But there’s so much to get away from that, and I think volunteers get a lot out of it too. I had a Big that I matched this week who said ‘I’m really looking forward to getting to do all the kid stuff that I would be getting made fun of if I did by myself. Like seeing Pixar movies and stuff like that.’ This is just two hours a week that you’re just going have fun and be a kid. That carries over into your personal life. A positive thing for a kid can also carry over positively into your career, as a decompression time that you set aside for yourself every two hours a week. How cool it is to have this kid who is excited to see you every week? I mean it feels good when you show up and your Little is excited to see you.”

Big Brothers Big Sisters
Mandy and her Little

“I see Bigs grow within themselves personally when they can recognize their Little’s successes in spite of their adversity. Bigs can recognize what’s going on the Little’s life and that they’re still able to survive, be resilient, and show up for school everyday. It’s ultimately how we grow up as people, is when you’re able to compare yourself to someone else’s situation and realize that you’re really fortunate in this regard.”

Where could this kid have been if you had not been there?

“A lot of time being a Big is thankless. There are parents who are super appreciative and see the value of someone being there. And then there are other parents who just take it for granted. A lot of times it can be thankless. I think that in those situations where there isn’t the best relationship with the parent, you really have to dig deep and realize that you’re there for the kid. You’re not there for gratification. But a lot of times, you know, like one of my coworkers, her and husband were matched with a kid for five or six years. It wasn’t until he was an adult that the Little really expressed his appreciation. You have to look forward to why are you doing it: your own benefit or the benefit of the kid? Where could this kid have been if you had not been there? I try to put that into perspective for our Bigs.”

“The feedback from parents a lot the time is usually like ‘oh everything’s good’ but I don’t get that insight often. So I have to pry for information a lot of the time. A mom from one of my matches made one of the most impactful comments to me specifically about the older Little’s match. The mom just said that she really appreciates that the Big talks to her and listens and gives her life advice. She said ‘My relationship with my daughter has improved since her big sister has been in her life.’ I use that quote whenever I can because it’s so rare that we get such an insightful comment from a parent. And seeing that, if I was a mom and my kid was hanging out with a cool lady similar to my age, and really happy to see her, there’s got to be a little jealousy. So just to hear that this mom completely never viewed it that way. It was seeing that her kid is better off and her relationship is better because of this positive influence in her life. That was one of the most impactful comments that a parent has ever made to me.”

It’s the Little things that make a Big difference

“We have Littles that hold their Bigs in such high esteem. I can think of a Little now with ongoing behavioral problems. And this Big, he continued to see his Little even when the Little was at a behavioral home. The Big would go check the Little out of the home and take him to a baseball game or something. The Big was baffled that the kid had behavioral problems, because the kid was on 100% best behavior when he was with the Big. The Big was like ‘I’ve never seen any of this.’ Littles know that my Big has set this expectation for me with my behavior. And kids like structure. A lot of times they don’t get that structure at home. So that Little had an understanding of what was expected of him.”

“I had another match recently, they’re new, they’ve only been matched for two months. This little boy had so many life changes in the last year or so. His dad bailed and went back to California. His oldest sibling was arrested. His middle sibling was also arrested and sent away to a mental health facility for a year out of state. So it went from a two parent household with two older brothers to just the kid and mom. Then they moved here for family support, but then their family wasn’t great to them. The school counselor referred this kiddo because he was suffering from depression, saying ‘my heart hurts’. He’s in third grade, and it was just really sad. It ended up working out that we wanted to make the match, and we made it. His Big is great, he’s super consistent every week. I talked to the mom a couple weeks ago and the mom was just like, ‘Every Wednesday when we get home, he will rush in and take a shower after he gets home from school. He will put on a new outfit, his cool clothes. And then he will sit and wait on the doorstep for his Big. And his mom will be like -Hey you’ve got to come eat a snack- and the Little is like -Mom bring it to me, I don’t want to miss him.- And he will sit there and wait for his Big, freshly dressed and freshly bathed.’ This is after a month and a half of being matched. And the Big is cool, he goes to the park and plays with him. The Big does simple things and the Little is super excited to hang out with him. It’s just so cute to think about the Little all spruced up, waiting, he doesn’t even want a snack.”

Big Brothers Big Sisters looks for mentors who will be a safe, beneficial support to the child. If you’re interested in becoming a Big, check out Big Brothers Big Sisters of Northern Nevada online. You can also call the Reno office at (775) 352-3202 and ask to speak with an Enrollment Specialist. There are many other locations around the United States where you can become a Big. Anyone over the age of 18 who has their own vehicle can become a Big. The program commitment is at least one year of spending a few hours per week with your Little.

Before I go, I want to especially thank the many phenomenal organizations all around Northern Nevada who make it their business to care. These donors and community partners enable me to treat Concha to activities that we would be unable to do otherwise. Big Brothers Big Sisters is truly a movement supported by a community of caring organizations and people!

As always, let me know what you think by leaving a reply below. If you’re considering becoming a Big, I’m always happy to tell you more about my personal experience. But careful- it might be tough to get me to stop talking about how much I love being a Big.

Until next time, Salud!

2 comments on “Mentoring guides kids to make better life choices

  1. Esta es la forma en la que se construye un mundo donde todos caben. Lexi tu eres puro amor con muchas ganas de hacer sonreir. Gran ser humano eres.

    Liked by 1 person

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