Big Brothers Big Sisters of Central Arizona is expanding its program in the East Valley and is actively recruiting Little Brothers and Little Sisters in Scottsdale, Tempe, Mesa, Chandler, and Gilbert. A number of volunteers in the East Valley, especially women, have answered the call to become mentors, and children who live in those neighborhoods and are enrolled in the BBBSAZ community-based program no longer have to wait months to be matched.
“This is actually a good problem to have because it means we can have an even bigger impact in certain areas of the valley,” 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 children ages 6 to 15 who live in the East Valley.”
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. Children (Littles) enrolled in the community-based program meet at least two times per month with their mentors (Bigs) and spend time doing activities they both enjoy. Whether it’s hiking, playing video games, eating pizza, or going to the library, the most important thing is that the child 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, 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 Brother or 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.
“Skyler has not only gained a Big Brother, but he has gained a lifelong friend, a mentor, and a man who he can rely on and trust to be there for him,” said Kelly, whose 10-year-old son Skyler has been matched to Sam for two years. She credits Sam with helping Skyler build self-confidence enabling him to overcome anxiety and excel in school.
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.
“Jack and his Big Brother are two peas in a pod,” said Amanda who recently enrolled nine-year-old Jack in the BBBSAZ program after the death of his father. “They have the same sense of humor, they like video games, and they both have red hair.”
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.