How Do We Know Mentoring Works?

“The single greatest predictor of a child’s future success is the presence of a consistent, supportive adult in their life.”

Changing kids’ lives for the better, forever is Big Brothers Big Sisters’ mission. But how do we know that mentoring, and that our one-to-one mentoring model, works? How do we determine that positive changes are taking place in children’s lives and that our efforts are truly making a difference?

For over 46 years, BBBS of Central Texas has gathered and tracked a variety of data, feedback and information to evaluate the impact of our work. Measuring our effectiveness is something we take seriously. We look at a wide range of factors to ensure that the mentoring relationships we create are producing positive results for the 1,000 matches we serve each year.

Many of the kids in our program face challenges that can adversely affect their success. Sixty-seven percent of the kids we serve come from single-parent homes, 34% have an incarcerated family member, and 85% live at or below the poverty level. Many of our kids are dealing with several of these issues, and others, at once.

“The presence of these circumstances doesn’t necessarily mean a child will go down the wrong path or make poor life choices,” said Joe Strychalski, Vice President of Programs, “but these factors – among others – can significantly impact their progress and their opportunities for the future. The presence of a supportive, caring mentor can make a world of difference.”

Research shows that the longer a match lasts, the stronger the relationship between a Big and a Little becomes, the better the results of that relationship will be. Consequently, we monitor match length, strength, and outcomes.

To get things off on the right track, BBBS staff go through a very careful and deliberate process to make the best matches possible between prospective Bigs and Littles. When a match is made, the Little’s individual needs are assessed to determine areas the match can focus on improving. A tool called the Risk and Protective Inventory (RPI) helps BBBS staff assess risk areas so that goals and support strategies can be established at the beginning of each mentoring relationship.

“We do set goals with each match,” said Joe. “We monitor the length of the match and the strength of the match relationship with an annual survey completed by both the Big and the Little. Plus, we are consistently communicating with all parties involved to ensure child safety, troubleshoot any problems that might come up, and to nurture the ongoing development and progress of the relationship.”

With regard to outcomes, BBBS staff monitor impacts in three specific areas: socio-emotional development, academic performance, and avoidance of risky behaviors. Socio-emotional measures examine a Little’s relationships with family and peers, their self-confidence, and their attitudes about the future. The academic assessment looks at a Little’s grades, school attendance, and educational aspirations, including their intention to pursue post-secondary education. The behavioral survey evaluates the Little’s attitudes towards drugs, alcohol and fighting, and their avoidance of interactions with the juvenile justice system, teen pregnancy and dropping out of school.

So what does the data show? The results are overwhelmingly positive. More than 99.9% of BBBS-mentored youth avoid juvenile justice involvement; 99.9% avoid early pregnancy; and 98% stay in school, maintain or improve their grades and move on to the next grade level. In addition, BBBS youth complete high school and pursue post-secondary education at rates that are almost twice the national average for their peers.

Ninety-four percent of Littles report feeling close to their Big Brother or Sister, 97% say that their Big is very important to them, and 84% indicate that they have maintained or improved their sense of trust with their parents since being matched.

The numbers, however, are only part of the story. In addition to collecting data, we solicit and receive personal feedback from Bigs, Littles and family members regarding their experiences with our program on an ongoing basis. Bigs and Littles regularly comment on the joy they share in trying new activities, eating new foods and visiting new places. Littles say that they love having someone to talk to who isn’t part of their family, someone they can have one-to-one time with, and someone who provides a different way of looking at things. Parents say that they see improvements in their child’s attitude, in their self-confidence, and in their life goals. And Bigs, Littles, parents and caregivers are frequently pleasantly surprised by how quickly they come to feel like ‘family.’

Andrea Campaigne knows all about the difference a mentoring relationship can make. Andrea is a former a Little Sister who eventually became a Big Sister and then served on BBBS’ board of directors. “My Big Sister, Bert, and I were matched for more than 7 years,” Andrea recalled. “That was a wonderful relationship in my childhood. Bert was the first person in her family to go to college. She put herself through the University of Texas. She never discussed those things with me, but at that important time in my life, she was the right kind of role model for me. When I grew up, I became the first woman in my family to go to college as well. Having had a mentor at that age is not something I take lightly.”

When she became a Big Sister, Andrea inspired her own Little to be the first woman in her family to attend college. “There’s a beautiful continuity to our story which is so subtle,” said Andrea. “Big Brothers Big Sisters’ program works, not because it forces any one measurable outcome or result but because the outcomes just follow from the mentoring relationships themselves. Putting a caring, committed person in an at-risk child’s life leads to their positive development.”

“The depths of the relationships that form between Bigs and Littles are incredible to me,” Andrea continued. “It’s hard to describe or to show on paper. You can try to tell a new Big, ‘In 5 years you’ll be so close that your Little will probably be in your wedding.’ To them it will sound strange, but connections like that happen in this program.”

And she adds, “That’s what I love about BBBS. When you’re matched, you don’t always realize the magic that’s happening in your relationship as it’s taking place, but it does. That’s the beauty of mentorship.”

All About The Team: This Former Little is ‘Playing it Forward’

Years ago, he was credited with being a Little Brother in one of the longest-lasting matches at Big Brothers Big Sisters of Central Texas. Today, Dave Rappold serves on BBBS’ Board of Directors and is heading up the agency’s 2018 Bowl For Kids event.

“When I was 4 years old my dad passed away suddenly and unexpectedly,” said Dave. “That set the stage for BBBS becoming part of my life.  I went through the next few years in a sort of daze. When I was about 7 years old my mom talked to me about an organization that helped kids by matching them with adults. My first response was ‘I’m getting a dad,’ but she explained how BBBS worked and asked what I would look for in a mentor. My only thoughts were that I wanted him to like bicycles, to like tennis, and to have a mustache. That’s when I met Dale Wiseman.”

Dale became Dave’s Big Brother, and it turned out that he not only liked bicycles, he also liked motorcycles, was a spelunker, played tennis (which he taught Dave), and didn’t live far from Dave’s house. He also had a “wonderful Tom Selleck mustache.” “Having Dale in our lives was great medicine for me and my mom,” said Dave. “I didn’t have the deck stacked against me like a lot of the kids in our program do, but Dale came in fresh and he took me away from all the stuff going on at home. He never knew about everything I’d been through. We never talked about the loss of my dad. We just went and did fun stuff that kids are supposed to do. And I think that’s one of the main things it takes to heal and move forward.”

Dave’s Big Brother helped him cope with the difficult loss of his father. There were still negative things in his life, however. He says he stumbled through school, and that he was distracted and angry, but that having a Big Brother kept him engaged in constructive activities with someone who was a really good person and a wonderful influence. A situation that reduced the chances of his getting into trouble.

When a child loses a parent at such a young age, Dave believes that that loss is always with them in some way… that the sense of loss never leaves. But for Dave, that sense of loss is combined with a deep love for BBBS. “They were there for me,” Dave said of the agency. “And it never really left my mind to re-engage with BBBS at some point.”

Dave has always felt that he should have become a Big himself, but his life changed as he went through college, military service, got married and became a father to two kids of his own. He has found other ways however, to plug in and to advance BBBS’ mission. In 2016 he joined BBBS’ Executive Board. Now, he is leading the campaign for BBBS’ 2018 Bowl for Kids event set for April 27 & 28 at Highland Lanes.

“Last year we had a record-setting Ice Ball gala,” said Dave. “This year, I’d like BBBS to have a record-setting Bowl for Kids event. That would really help reduce the agency’s 600-kid waiting list.”

For Dave, the opportunity to participate in Bowl for Kids cuts across all socioeconomic lines. “Corporate donations are important and get the fundraising ball rolling,” he said. “but everyone can participate. Individuals giving $20 of their gas money are just as important.”

Creating a successful Bowl for Kids event is a team effort that embodies the BBBS spirit. “Bowl for Kids provides a great opportunity for a different type of social mingling and camaraderie,” said Dave. “Participants get together for pizza, beer, water, sodas, and to cheer each other on. There are no diamonds and high heels at Bowl for Kids. It’s just a bunch of folks getting together to support BBBS’ mission and to have a great time in the process. There are participants from corporations, from the community, Bigs, Littles, Board members and staff. All these people come together with one thing in common, they believe in BBBS and want to help the agency serve more kids.”

Dave challenges everyone to participate. “Come and make an impact,” said Dave. “At BBBS we’ve proven ourselves. We’ve proven that our one-to-one mentoring model works. We have a new building. We have a great staff and board. We have all of these important tools and processes and people in place to take care of kids and to serve them really well. We also have a long list of children waiting for the life-changing opportunities that a Big Brother or Sister can provide. What we need to be able to serve more kids is money.”

“Bowl for Kids is a wonderful way to impact BBBS’ ability to serve more kids in a quality manner and to reduce the waiting list for children in need.”

Dave knows all about the difference BBBS can make in a child’s life. He’s been there. Now, he wants to extend that same opportunity to more children whose lives would be impacted, just as his was.

Spotlight on Saul Espinoza

He’s from El Paso, but Saul Espinoza, Big Brothers Big Sisters of Central Texas enrollment specialist, knew he wanted to end up in Austin. Though his path to BBBS is unusual, Saul is committed to helping at-risk kids. He works hard to make the best mentoring matches possible so that BBBS’ kids can achieve success.

“As a kid, I’d always looked up to military personnel. So, I signed up for the Reserve Officers’ Training Corps (ROTC) at Socorro High School in El Paso,” said Saul, “and I enlisted in the Army as a combat engineer upon graduation. I was stationed at Fort Carson, Colorado and served two deployments.”

Following his military service, Saul enrolled at UT El Paso to pursue a degree in social work. “I talked with a lot of social workers who did mental health assessments when servicemen and women returned from deployments,” said Saul. “I liked the work they did, but I disliked the fact that they couldn’t relate to some of the things we were going through. As such, I felt that promoting mental health in the veteran division would be a good fit for me.”

While pursuing his degree, Saul worked as a college tutor at a local high school for at-risk kids. He also volunteered at his local church, helping elementary school children with their homework. “I realized that there was a huge need to provide guidance and mentorship to youth. I also knew I wanted to head to Austin upon graduation,” said Saul. “So, I looked for a place where I would be a good fit. I’d helped with the Bowl for Kids event for BBBS in El Paso, so that’s why BBBS of Central Texas came to mind, and it turned out that the agency here had some job openings.”

Saul interviewed for two positions at BBBS in Austin, but gravitated towards the enrollment specialist role. He realized that he liked the interaction with people and that his interest was in matching kids with mentors and putting the right pairs together. “It makes me feel good when I see that the matches are successful,” said Saul.

As an enrollment specialist Saul interviews volunteers (potential mentors), children, and their families. He then writes assessments based on these interviews, initiates background checks for volunteers and, once that is complete, starts the match-making process. As BBBS’ track record shows, this is a process that the enrollment team works very hard to get right. “I will not make a match if I’m uncertain about it or if I feel the child will not benefit,” said Saul. “I make sure the volunteer is a good fit, and then confirm that the parent and child think the match is a good fit as well. If they are happy, we’ll proceed.”

The greatest challenge Saul sees is that of getting enough volunteers to fill the need. “The hardest part is the shortage of male mentors,” said Saul. “We have a lot more Little Brothers looking for Big Brothers than we have Big Brothers.”

Saul challenges other veterans to help solve this problem. “I would challenge veterans to think about becoming Bigs.  In a way, it’s sort of like being a squad leader or platoon sergeant who looks out for younger soldiers,” said Saul. “Our Littles are a lot younger, but they just need someone to talk to, someone to teach them skills, and someone they can count on to be there. Reliability and stability are things a lot of kids don’t have in their lives.”

While passionate about his work, Saul also enjoys music and playing acoustic, electric, and bass guitar.  He enjoys the outdoors, going to movies, and going to local shows with friends. In addition, he has explored playing video games as a way to increase his ability to relate to the kids he works to help.

“Helping these kids can seem like a daunting task, but it’s really not. They just need someone to help them know the difference between right and wrong, and to help them get on the right path. And helping them is a lot of fun,” said Saul. “I just want these kids to be able to be good, productive members of society. And I want to know that we looked out for these kids, and that in turn, they will look out for others as well.”