For more than 100 years, 60 of which in Tacoma, Big Brothers Big Sisters of America has been providing thousands of children throughout the nation who face adversity and hardships with programs that lead them down a better path. Big Brothers Big Sisters believes that every child, even when the odds are stacked against them, has the potential to achieve success.
Over the course of the last 10 years, Big Brothers Big Sisters has served more than 2 million children throughout America, and they’re making an important impact right here in the Puget Sound. Big Brothers Big Sisters of Puget Sound provides kids with thoughtfully matched mentors who foster positive relationships that create direct and lasting effects on the course of their lives.
“There’s a great deal of care that goes into making each match,” states Diana Comfort of Big Brothers Big Sisters. “There is no shortage of kids. We’re referred children through teachers, schools, counselors and parents. These young people are highly resilient and it makes all the difference in the world to have somebody in their corner.”
Adult volunteers who work with Big Brothers Big Sisters are known as “Bigs,” while the kids ages 6–18, are known as “Littles.” The one-to-one mentoring between Bigs and Littles helps kids build their confidence, establish goals and boosts their educational success. Each month, the pair gets to spend four hours in the community creating a trusting relationship together. Mentors help navigate through the life struggles that their Little is facing, and much of their time spent together is having fun, with the Big being a listening ear or shoulder to cry on.
In Pierce County, Big Brothers Big Sisters partners with local elementary and middle schools that have identified students who need mentors the most. Whether mentors are helping students with homework or simply shooting hoops outside, the relationship between Big and Little is something that sticks with them both for a lifetime. Tacoma Public Schools offers site-based programs at McCarver Elementary School, Gray Middle School and Baker Middle School, and in the past year alone, Big Brothers Big Sisters has served over 400 kids and mentors in Pierce County.
Josh, a 7th grade student at Baker Middle School, moved with his family from Kenya to Tacoma less than a year ago. When kids at school began to make fun of his accent, Josh and his family turned to Big Brothers Big Sisters for help. At the beginning of the school year, Josh was matched with his Big Brother, Antoine. The two spend an hour together after school each week doing everything from playing soccer and catch, to just talking about life.
The pair value their time spent together and have a come a long way. Josh is setting educational goals and recently joined the school’s basketball team, but with team activities can come frustrations. When Josh asked his mom to quit the team, she reached out to his Big Brother. Antoine helped Josh by communicating about his frustrations and by practicing his basketball moves. Josh stuck with the team and excelled with the help of his mentor. “I like spending time with Antoine because he understands me,” Josh said. “Antoine talks me down when I’m upset and tells me the right thing to do.”
With so many kids in the area experiencing a multitude of different needs, Pierce County requires more help than ever. Due to a shortage of volunteers, the current waitlist has more than 300 children and is only growing with time. In Tacoma and Pierce County, 87% of the youth that Big Brothers Big Sisters serves come from low-income households, 77% of children live at home without one or both parents, and 20% have experienced homelessness within the last 12 months.
A recently conducted study by The National Institute of Health revealed that kids who live in poverty begin to feel severe hopelessness and frequently abandon all hope for their future. This leads to high levels of risky behavior, including problems with aggression and substance use.
But with the help of the dedicated volunteers at Big Brothers Big Sisters, kids can cope with these feelings. In Pierce County, 92% of kids improved their sense of social acceptance and sense of parental trust, 86% increased or maintained their grades and are doing better academically, and 100% of kids involved in programs with Big Brothers Big Sisters developed a desire to avoid risky behavior like physical violence and drug or alcohol abuse.
The need for more mentors is urgent. The organization encourages those who are interested in volunteering to apply to become a mentor so they can help local youth combat the struggles they face by living in poverty or experiencing hardships.
“It’s not an expertise or a high level education that’s required at all,” Diana Comfort explains. “It’s everybody who cares about kids.”
Volunteers must be at least 18 years old and pass a background test. Each month, Bigs will spend four hours helping brighten the day of their Little and will create meaningful relationships that last for a lifetime. Mentoring not only has a significant impact on the children, but on the volunteers as well.