If you’ve spent time around Big Brothers Big Sisters of Central Texas, you’ve probably seen or heard the number $1,250. It’s mentioned at Ice Ball, at Bowl for Kids, on our website, and in our printed materials. $1,250 is a big deal at BBBS. Why? Because $1,250 is what it costs to fund a mentoring relationship for one year.
But wait! Why does it cost money to match a child with a mentor if BBBS’ mentors are volunteers?
BBBS does use volunteer mentors as Bigs, but while it may seem possible to pair a child with a caring adult and have a mentoring relationship just happen, creating an effective match is not that simple.
BBBS spends a lot of time interviewing and pairing the right child with the right adult, nurturing the match between the child, the family and the volunteer, and supporting it with highly skilled, professional staff and programming. Quite simply, BBBS puts its money – its $1,250 – where its mission is.
From the customer relations employee who answers inquiries about being a Big or enrolling a child in our program, to the enrollment team that conducts interviews and background checks, evaluates applicants, and puts matches together, to the match support specialists who reinforce and monitor these mentoring relationships, it’s this highly skilled, professional team that makes BBBS’ matches so successful.
“Our program staff are required to have Bachelor’s degrees in Social Work or a related field, and employees receive additional training from our national office,” said Joe Strychalski, BBBS’ vice president of programs. “That training, along with the sophisticated system and processes we use to monitor child safety, participant attitudes, a child’s academic performance and avoidance of risky behaviors, all set our agency apart. We work on lots of different levels, activities and strategies to help Bigs and Littles achieve positive results.”
“When a match is just beginning, we work on establishing effective communication between the volunteer, the child and the family,” said Diana Hernandez, match support supervisor. “At that point, our team is initiating a relationship between people who are strangers and it’s important to get things off on the right track.”
The quality of the relationship that develops forms the basis for a quality match. “Our work is all about what’s best for the child. Many of the children we work with face significant challenges in their personal lives and stability is important for their matches to be effective,” Diana continued. “Changing mentors because a Little and a Big didn’t bond well isn’t beneficial for that child.”
Consequently, match support specialists work to foster trust between the volunteer and the family as match outings are planned, often serving as a go-between for the volunteer and the guardian, especially when there are language barriers.
Specialists also keep volunteers up to date on dynamics within the family. BBBS works with many low-income families and when financial problems result in a disconnected phone or other issues that might make a match outing difficult, BBBS’ team members keep volunteers informed. Similarly, if there are issues with school work or external problems that impact the child and the parent needs the volunteer to know about them but doesn’t want to relay the information through the child, a match support specialist will help.
“We also coach Bigs on how to connect with Littles who are quiet or who don’t trust adults. We help volunteers and families address issues that come up, suggest activities related to interests Bigs and Littles share, and organize match events that allow Bigs and Littles to connect with other matches.”
Sometimes events occur not only in the Little’s life but in the Big’s as well, and BBBS’ match support specialists must work to keep the pair connected. “Our volunteers may get married, have a baby, get a new job or have a schedule change,” Diana said. “When these things happen, we help participants develop strategies to keep the match, and the relationship, working.”
It’s a lot to keep track of as each match support specialist manages an average of 85 – 90 matches – with each match involving 3 to 4 individuals. Specialists work on building and maintaining relationships with all of these individuals to keep them engaged, and to ensure that the match is truly benefitting the child.
To that end, specialists monitor each match on a regular basis. “During the first year, we talk with everyone in the match once a month,” Diana explained. “After that, we touch base with participants quarterly.”
The team also compiles reports, completes required match surveys, provides information for grant reporting, implements workplace mentoring for a local middle school and high school, coordinates monthly enrichment activities and outings, and offers a scholarship program for Littles.
All of these activities, combined with the care, expertise and experience BBBS’ staff members bring to their work, produce life-changing impacts for children, volunteers, family members and the community as a whole.
To make this kind of difference, BBBS relies on funds raised through events, grants, and individual contributions.
“People often assume that there’s no cost associated with our services, or that funds for our work are covered by the government. Neither is true,” said Brent Fields, BBBS’ CEO. “There are costs associated with what we do, and we don’t have any sort of automatic funding source. And, unlike many great nonprofits, we don’t offer a fee-for-service product. We don’t charge for what we do. There’s no membership or participation fee for the year-round services we provide.
“While $1,250 may sound like a big number, the truth is that many people spend more than this on coffee over the course of a year. For this same amount of money, we can put a child on the path to success. And, as that child goes on to attend college, get a living wage job and give back to the community, the return on this investment is enormous,” Brent added.
For BBBS $1,250 is a magic number.
It’s the cost to fund a match for a year, but the benefits of that match are priceless.