Waiting To Be Matched – The Impact

 

 

Kids process time differently than adults do, especially when they are waiting for something special. For kids wanting a mentor, a friend, or someone to help them, being on a waiting list can feel like it takes forever.

“Waiting to be matched with a Big Brother or Sister can seem like it takes a long time,” said Adriana Adams, BBBS Customer Relations Supervisor. “And they take it personally. Kids think ‘There’s something about me that means I can’t get a mentor.’  Parents are more understanding and have better perspective.”

Though they’re understanding, however, waiting is hard on parents as well. “We have parents who are looking for help, who are going through a hard time,” said Adriana. “And they have nowhere else to go. It is really hard to have to tell them that we can’t match their child right away.”

“People will call and tell us stories that show just how much their child needs a Big,” said Ellen Harsch, Enrollment Supervisor. “For example, a mom will say, ‘My child is having a real hard time in school and getting into trouble,’ or ‘My child has been getting into fights since his dad went to jail,’ or ‘My child seems lonely since his dad died.’ Sometimes it can be one hard story after another. And everyone who calls deserves a Big. The family may be going through something that is so hard for them, and one way we can support and help them is to provide a friend, but it’s not something we can just snap our fingers and do immediately because the demand exceeds our staff capacity.”

BBBS’ staff members let parents and children know about the expectations for getting matched, but that doesn’t always make it any easier for families, or for staff, when children are put on the waiting list. “It’s always hard and sad to say ‘No.’ And it’s hard on us as staff because we know how much good a mentor can do,” Ellen continued. “We know that if we could get these kiddos matched we could really make a difference in impacting their lives in a positive way.”

The kids waiting to be matched know that having a mentor can be positive too, as their comments reveal. “One Little Brother said that he wants a mentor because he wants someone he can hang out with and talk to,” said Christina Eisenlord, Enrollment Specialist. “Another Little is the oldest child in his family with a lot of responsibility and he needs some space away from the chaos within the house.”

“One Little Sister is super excited about the possibility of getting a Big Sister because she says she really needs help in school,” Christina continued.

For some of the kids on the waiting list it’s about the companionship of having an adult friend. “One Little Sister hopes to get a Big Sister because she doesn’t want to be lonely,” Christina added. “Her mother has breast cancer and she really wants someone to talk to. She wants more than just fun activities because she’s struggling with what is going on with her mom.”

As new matches get started, it’s exciting to imagine what their futures might hold.

“Once a match begins there’s so much good that can come from it. We see that over and over as Bigs, Littles, and family members move through life events together. While the wait can be a challenge, the benefits, opportunities and relationships that come from being matched can truly last a lifetime,” Ellen said.

Big Brother Chris agreed. “When we first got matched, Keon was a little shy,” he said about his Little Brother Keontray. “He’d talk about his day and I’d ask him all sorts of questions about his life and he’d share if he wanted to.”

“The wait to be matched with Keon was definitely worth it. Since Day One, seeing Keon once a week is the highlight of my week, every single week. The best part is that Keon adds just as much to my life as I do his. He inspires me to be a better person, and to keep pushing through school and work and life. He’s a brilliant kid and I believe in him 100%. I’d do anything for him and his family on any day.”

Is being on the waiting list hard? Yes.

Is it worth the wait? Absolutely!

Big Brothers Big Sisters’ Waiting List

Big Brothers Big Sisters works hard to match as many kids who want mentors as possible. Unfortunately, matching all of the kids who apply doesn’t just automatically happen. Consequently, kids end up on our “waiting list.” We talked with Joe Strychalski, BBBS’ Vice President of Programs, to explore why this happens and how more kids can be moved off the waiting list and into the mentoring relationships they need and deserve.

What is BBBS’ “waiting list” and who is on it?

JS: We always have far more kids and parents who inquire about getting matched with a Big Brother or Sister than we can accommodate (match). Our “waiting list” consists of those kids/families who have inquired about getting matched, but who we can’t immediately start in the enrollment process. We keep all of their information, and when we reach the point where we can actively start looking for a match for them, we’ll call them to set up an interview and get them started in the process.

We try to be open, upfront and realistic about matching kids.  Our goal is that anyone we interview and take through the full enrollment process is someone we feel we can find a great match for – and quickly.  This is the best use of staff time, makes for the most effective matches, and gives kids/families the most realistic picture of our ability to match them with a Big Brother or Sister.

Why do we have a waiting list?

JS: Two things: supply and demand, and money.

Every BBBS agency I know of receives more inquiries from kids/parents than 1) inquiries from volunteers, and 2) than they can effectively match.  Part of the challenge is that typically about 70% of inquiries are to enroll Little Brothers, while only about 30% of inquiries to volunteer are from Big Brothers – so there’s a major imbalance in folks coming into the program.  We typically have around 600 kids on our waiting list and around 80% or more of those kids are boys.  Big Brothers who come into our program, who enroll, and who are approved, get matched very quickly, but we never have enough men volunteering to fill the need.

By money, we mean contributions and revenue to help us hire more staff to serve more kids. Throughout our process, each department (Customer Relations, Enrollment and Match Support) consistently operates at full capacity.  For example, we have a team of about 8 Match Support Specialists who introduce new Bigs and Littles and support existing matches.  We estimate that each MSS can support 85-90 matches at most and still maintain a high level of service to their matches.  This level of quality is critical to our ability to achieve positive outcomes for each of the kids we match. We could serve more kids at a lower level, but that would negate much of the impact that we see in high-quality, professionally-supported mentoring relationships.  Over the last year, our entire staff has been operating at 98-100% of our projected capacity in every area.  We’re doing our best to have the biggest impact on as many kids as we can.  If we were able to hire more staff, we could serve more matches and move more kids off the waiting list and through the process more quickly.

What is the impact of the waiting list on some of our matches? Are there situations where one sibling is matched and another is not?

JS: We do our best to move families through the process together and not leave one sibling matched and another or others waiting for very long.  Again, we want to make the best possible matches, but we consider all siblings in a family when we start the enrollment process.

We also do our best to keep siblings on the same Match Support Specialist caseload.  Our staff do a great job of establishing trust and healthy relationships with each of our families and often, it’s best when one staff member can be the point of contact for families with multiple kiddos.

 The waiting list has gone down. What have we done to achieve this success?

JS: Over the last year, our Customer Relations team has done a great job of reaching out to those on the waiting list to ensure that families are still engaged with us as well as looking for kids we are likely to be able to match more quickly.  We have received some funding from grants and foundations that has helped us to serve populations that can often be a bit harder to match.  We have also been tracking our volunteer inquiries closely and looking for kids on the waiting list who are likely to be a good fit for the volunteers who are coming into the program.  Along with this, we have been starting with those who have been on the waiting list the longest and trying to move these kids forward more quickly than we’ve been able to in the past.  Often when we have parents/guardians and kids who inquired a year or two ago, who have patiently been waiting to start the process, and who continue to want to be in the program – these are the kids and families who will thrive in a match.  They’re committed, engaged, and excited.

However, the wait list constantly fluctuates. At times, we have more than 700 kids waiting, and recently we’ve decreased that to around 500.  BUT, we typically receive more inquiries early in the year than throughout the summer and late in the year, so our list is likely to move back over 600 in the beginning of 2018.

How can people help? What is needed to reduce the list even further?

JS: We will always need more male volunteers and funding to serve more kids.

Male Volunteers – As mentioned, our wait list is almost completely full of Little Brothers wanting Big Brothers.  We never have enough men volunteering as Bigs. Of the approx. 600 kids waiting, about 500 of those are boys.

Also, typically about 90% of the young people we serve are from minority populations (mainly Hispanic and African-American), while nearly 70% of our volunteers are Caucasian. So about 450 of the young people on our waiting list are boys and young men of color.

Although we do match across ethnicities and see positive outcomes from these matches, Littles and families often ask to be matched with a Big of the same race/ethnicity, feeling that this Big may be able to better relate to the Little, and to understand the challenges they’re facing.

Regarding volunteer Bigs, we always have a need for men, men of color and bilingual Bigs (both male and female).

Funding – Even if we had an influx of hundreds of male volunteers, we wouldn’t necessarily be able to enroll and match them as quickly as we would like to because of the need for more staff to support them.

Is there still a need?

JS: Absolutely – and there always will be, particularly as our region grows.  BBBS will always have kids/families wanting mentors.  My hope is that, while we will always have a “waiting list,” we will start to be able to move people through the process much more quickly and efficiently.  And, instead of telling people that they’ll have to wait to be interviewed and start the process, we’ll be able to get them enrolled and immediately start looking for a good match.

One of the things we share with both families/kids and Bigs is that we never guarantee how long it will take to find a match. We would rather take more time to make a good match, than force a potential bad match to happen quickly. Creating quality matches is our highest priority.

Teri & Nancy: Quality Time

They were matched at the beginning of the summer, just as school was ending. Big Sister Teri and her Little Sister Nancy have wasted no time, however, in becoming good friends and spending quality girl time together.

“Nancy is naturally quiet and shy,” Teri said, “But we have no trouble talking about all sorts of things.”

Nancy, who is 12 years-old, is one of four children and the only girl in her family, so girl bonding is important. Her mom has worked hard to get her into a lot of good programs, but as a single parent, she doesn’t always have time to give her children individual attention. “Nancy just needs some one-on-one time,” Teri explained. “She likes playing with my mom’s dogs, and sometimes she just wants to have dinner and watch Dancing with the Stars.”

Dance is something Nancy is very interested in and Teri has been researching free dance programs through the Austin Ballet. The pair have also enjoyed exploring other facets of the arts, including painting on canvas, decorating pumpkins, and participating in a Big Brothers Big Sisters Sister 2 Sister event at Café Monet. “Nancy is a very good artist and I try to encourage that at every opportunity,” Teri added.

An employee with the Austin Police Department, Teri has always had an interest in working with kids. BBBS recently launched a new ‘Bigs in Blue’ program that engages law enforcement personnel as mentors, benefiting Bigs and Littles alike.

Halloween was another adventure for this match. They planned a trick-or-treat outing with one of Teri’s friends and her daughters who are Nancy’s age. “This was a chance for Nancy to have some time with me as well as with some other girls her own age. Her mom has said that Nancy has friends, but that she tends to keep to herself because she feels that there is always drama surrounding her friends from school.”

Having a mentor who can provide a break from the drama is important for a child who is naturally shy. “Nancy has a very kind heart,” Teri said. “I showed her the portable donation library in my neighborhood and she thought it was great. She’d never seen anything like it. She said, ‘It’s so nice for people to provide books for others when they don’t have to.’”

As a result, Teri discovered her Little’s love of reading and they’ve been discussing favorite books. “Nancy is reading the book ‘Wonder’ and she has been telling me all about the story.”

“I cannot imagine a better match,” Teri concluded. “BBBS’ staff are so good at what they do. There is no better match for me than Nancy. We get along so well, we have the same sense of humor, and we enjoy a lot of the same things. I’m a little surprised at how amazing the match has been. I see Nancy once a week, but between visits I’m always, always looking forward to the next time I’ll see her.”

Your support makes relationships like this possible.  Thank you.

Learn more about BBBS’ monthly giving program at www.gamechangersaustin.org.

Learn more about Big Brothers Big Sisters’ Giving Society here

Making a BIG Difference

Community engagement is an important part of Big Brothers Big Sisters’ work. Now, a new group is turning that emphasis on community inward in order to create a greater sense of connectivity between and among BBBS Bigs and matches.

The new group is called BIG – The Big Impact Group. It is made up of Bigs and other volunteers who are connected with BBBS. Launched in May, the group is using their networking skills and resources to help the organization as a whole.

“I’m so proud of being a part of this organization (BBBS), and I wanted more,” said Michaela Lindsay, a former Big Sister and one of the founders of the new group. “As Bigs, we all feel so strongly about our experiences that we wanted to create an additional sense of community between and among other Bigs.”

Michaela became aware of the need for this type of community when her own match came to an end as her Little Sister Aracely graduated from high school. “We were told that our match would be closing and we were kind of caught off guard by that because we hang out together all the time,” Michaela explained. “So, we approached BBBS about wanting to stay involved with the organization because it’s been such a positive experience for us.”

Michaela believed she had a lot of skills and resources to offer to help meet some of the organization’s needs, and she wanted to keep her Little Sister connected with the agency as well. “Aracely particularly wanted to give back to other high-school-aged Littles,” said Michaela.

Michaela met with Joe Strychalski, BBBS Vice President of Programs, and Christina Snell, Match Support Supervisor, to start the conversation. After months of research and collecting ideas, the Big Impact Group was formed. “We identified a few needs that we thought we might be able to help meet if we mobilized some of our most engaged Bigs and supporters,” said Joe. “Those needs were additional funding to help hire more staff to serve more kids; recruiting volunteers – specifically men, men of color, and bilingual Bigs; and better connecting our Bigs.”

Connecting Bigs seemed like a natural place for the group to start. BBBS matches have match support specialists who do exceptional jobs of helping Bigs in their one-to-one relationships with their Littles, but even with this help matches can sometimes feel isolated from other matches. The Big Impact Group is working on strategies to address this.

“I’ve met so many wonderful people in this group,” said Michaela. “They are passionate about mentorship and have dedicated a significant portion of their time to it. I was involved with BBBS for 5 years and never made these kinds of connections before. So, that has already been a huge benefit of this group!”

To help build connections, the Big Impact Group is launching a Facebook group for Bigs and plans to be a point of contact for future match events. “Sometimes you show up for a match outing like a Round Rock Express baseball game and don’t even realize you’re sitting next to another match,” Michaela continued. “We want to be a point of contact to say, ‘Hey, we’ll meet at this location before the game. Come say ‘hi’ and get to know other Bigs and Littles and help us build a greater sense of community.”

To help BBBS recruit new volunteers, the group has set a goal of enlisting 50 male Bigs. They are planning to use their personal networks to get information out to those who might not be familiar with the organization.  “We want to let people know what is involved and what it means to be a Big. Especially potential male mentors,” said Michaela. “We’re interested in making legitimate connections for BBBS staff to pursue. I’m involved in the MBA program at UT which is a predominately male group. There could be a lot of student interest in the program there.”

To support fundraising, the Big Impact Group has set a goal of raising $50,000 and is scheduling several fundraising events. “Our first event was the ‘Notworking for Charity’ event that we held in late July,” said Joe. “We raised about $8,000, had approximately 200 participants, and 20 people expressed an interest in becoming Bigs.”

The group also has plans for events that satisfy multiple goals such as the Dynamic Duo Fitness Challenge coming up on November 12. This event will give matches a chance to have fun and get acquainted, while also raising funds for BBBS. The group is working on several other events including SantaCon, which will take place downtown on December 9th.

“Our target member for the group is someone who is already connected with BBBS,” said Michaela. “The Big Impact Group is just getting off the ground so we’re interested in attracting additional members. We want to include people who are already familiar with the organization. For instance, there may be people out there who have participated in Bowl for Kids every year and who haven’t necessarily volunteered as Bigs, but who are fully aware of BBBS’ mission and who have been impacted by the organization.”

Membership requirements for the group include: a one-year commitment to the group and attendance at monthly meetings; supporting BBBS financially – as a Game Changer making monthly donations at any level, or making a meaningful personal contribution to BBBS; being a current or past Big/BBBS participant; being a young professional currently engaged with BBBS, or being someone who is interested in future BBBS Board service.

“If someone is interested in joining the group I visit with them first,” said Joe. “I go over the expectations and requirements of membership because we want to make sure people know that this is a working group first and that there are high expectations. There is a social, networking component to our efforts and it is a fun group, but we expect our members to bring their resources – whether time, talent or treasure –  to help us meet our goals.”

“I would love to have more members and to hear more about what Bigs are looking for out of their participation,” Michaela said. “There are professional organizations for everything from sports to fine arts. The Big Impact Group exists to enrich the experience of Bigs and matches, to help the agency with fundraising and recruitment needs, and to build further awareness of BBBS.”

Photo: Big Impact Group members. Back row: Stefan Sinclair, Joe Strychalski, Albert Swantner, Oliver Davis-Urman, Jeremy Giroir. Front row: Liz Garcia, Nicholas Johnson, Michaela Lindsay, Jonathan Lin Davis. Not pictured: Jeremy Cox, Tri Dang, Brett Keenan, and Ali Nichols. 

Mentoring Tips for Each Stage of the Match Relationship

Tips from BBBS staff regarding things you can do to move your match along through each stage of the relationship:

Early Development Stage – This stage is largely about getting to know one another, establishing routines, and building trust.

  • Without prying, learn facts about your Little and reference them in your conversations, eg: favorite things, best friend, where they’ve traveled.
  • Be consistent and flexible. Do what you say you are going to do.
  • Be patient and remember that relationships have ups and downs, they don’t just happen by themselves.

Growth Stage – During this stage of the relationship, Littles may try to test Bigs to find out where the boundaries in their relationship are and to determine if their Bigs are going to leave. Bigs may desire some input from Littles.

  • Show your Little that he/she can trust you through your reliability, consistency and time together. As trust develops, your Little will probably begin sharing bits of information with you.
  • Keep in close contact with your Match Support Specialist for ideas.
  • Recognize and praise accomplishments.
  • If you need to give advice or address behavior problems, give reasons and avoid “shoulds.”

Maturity Stage – By this stage, Bigs and Littles have typically developed a comfortable and familiar relationship with one another.

  • Develop long-term shared interests and activities that you do frequently together and that you both enjoy.
  • Identify and celebrate past shared experiences and enjoy shared jokes.
  • Learn something that is new to both of you, together.

Opening Doors: Joe and Brian

Recognizing the role of mentors in your own life is a step toward understanding BBBS’ mission and impact. Having benefited from mentoring himself, Joe Gomez is now seeking to “pay it forward” as a Big Brother to his Little Brother, Brian.

“My father, like Brian’s, was incarcerated during most of my youth,” said Joe. “We have both been raised by single moms. As busy as his mother is, it’s really difficult for her to spend time on academics and athletics.”

Joe considers himself a “personal trainer” who is helping his Little Brother work harder in school and on the field so that he can see the positive results of his efforts. “Our time together gives Brian the opportunity to challenge himself. We work on basic skills, motivation, and on refining what he’s focusing on.”

“When we were first matched, college wasn’t something Brian looked forward to or thought about,” Joe continued, “so I took him to visit the University of Texas campus where we walked around, met some of the staff, checked out the football field, and ate in one of the dormitories.”

“I wanted him to see how everyone on that campus is different – different races, different backgrounds. I wanted him to know that the people there are people just like us who are going to a university, graduating, and going on to the next stage of their lives. Our tour made college seem real and tangible, rather than like an unattainable pipe dream.”

College is the reason Joe became so focused on the importance of mentoring himself. Growing up without a father figure, Joe was influenced by an uncle who went to college, and who inspired Joe to follow in his footsteps. “Having a relative who went that far and who believed in me is the reason I am where I am today,” said Joe, who is now an account executive with The HT Group. “The circumstances I grew up in didn’t define my future as much as having someone in my life who told me that I could do, and be, more.”

Joe is passing this knowledge and encouragement on to his Little Brother. “I’m seeing a growth in his self-confidence,” Joe said. “I saw the biggest breakthrough when we were working out because it was the first time Brian could really see that he was getting better, that he was getting stronger, and that his efforts were making a difference. Once he saw some progress, the value of his efforts, and his ability to change things, became real. Plus, it created some momentum. I hope that no matter where he goes in life, if there’s ever a door that seems beyond his grasp, he’ll take a shot at opening it. That he won’t accept limiting beliefs or circumstances.”

“The kids who enroll in BBBS’ program are hungry for attention and hungry to grow. They will listen and they will try. They just need a little push.”

“Mentoring is a living, breathing process that never ends…. A constant giving back and paying forward,” Joe concluded. “So far, I’ve learned three main things – one, I’ve gotten just as much out of being a mentor as I’ve given; two, we really need support from other people in the community to do this; and three, it’s amazing how little it takes to change somebody’s life for the better.”

Community Partners Support Our Matches

Big Brothers Big Sisters of Central Texas has always worked hand-in-hand with the community to ensure that children succeed. One group that exemplifies this collaborative spirit is BBBS Match Discount Partners – a group of businesses that offer their services for free, or at a reduced rate, for BBBS’ matches. These partners often assist with special events as well. By offering their support to BBBS, whether through products or services, BBBS’ community partners show how much they value our mission, the children in our community, and the importance of giving back.

“It’s such a positive partnership, especially with an organization like BBBS that’s doing the right thing for kids,” said Jeff Wilkinson, owner of PLAYlive Nation Austin; one of BBBS’ newest Match Discount Partners. Jeff’s business is an upscale video gaming lounge located at Lakeline Mall. PLAYlive Nation offers a safe social environment where matches can play video games and collectible card games like Magic and Pokémon.

“We’ve created a really family-friendly environment. We don’t allow cursing or yelling or screaming,” Jeff continued. “Bigs and Littles can feel comfortable coming in and having a good time together. It’s all about having fun.”

Jeff was referred to BBBS by a cousin who was a Big Sister. “She mentioned that Bigs are always looking for things to do with their Littles,” Jeff said. “It just seems like a win-win if we can offer something that helps matches.”

PLAYlive Nation is just one of the new activities and experiences that BBBS’ Match Discount Partners offer. Businesses and organizations contributing to the program include The Austin Aquarium, Austin’s Blanton Museum of Art, The Bullock Texas State History Museum, Austin Zoo, the Loralee Foundation, Thinkery, Austin Rock Gym, and Rick’s Cleaners, among others.

One partner that has been involved with BBBS since 2010 is CiCi’s Pizza in Round Rock and New Braunfels. A family-owned franchise business, CiCi’s first connected with BBBS when their corporate offices supported a BBBS Bowl for Kids event. “I then thought I needed to do something individually with BBBS because it’s a great organization,” said Chad Goodwin, owner. “No one needs support more than a young man or woman who doesn’t have a role model in their life to help them find the right path. The fact that Bigs provide that help is a testament to the type of people they are, and that’s something we want to encourage.”

Chad has always ensured that his businesses have been community and kid-focused. “Kids and pizza go together,” Chad laughed. “One of my fondest memories is of going out to eat with my parents. At CiCi’s, we try to bring people together through food. It’s one of the reasons we decided to do the discount partnership with BBBS. We wanted to provide opportunities for matches to sit down and talk without any other distractions, and we didn’t want Bigs to be burdened with providing that meal.”

Having community businesses partner with BBBS is a huge help for the agency and it supports our mission. “The support from community members and discount partners allows our kids and their Bigs to participate in a wider array of activities that are fun, engaging and affordable,” said Christina Eisenlord, enrollment specialist and program coordinator. “It also provides our kids with opportunities to expand their worlds and to discover all that this city has to offer.”

Business partners recognize this as well. “Big Brothers Big Sisters’ Bigs are providing much more than I am providing by giving a free meal,” said Chad. “They are making an impact on young men’s and women’s lives. And those young people are going to grow up to be our customers, our employees, and contributing members of our community. We want to positively impact them.”

Though Big Brothers Big Sisters of Central Texas is part of a national organization, our agency works at the local level. Working with community partners connects us to the community, benefits the children, families and volunteers we serve, and expands our circle of influence and impact in a way that is mutually beneficial. It is a win-win for our agency, our matches and those who partner with us; one that raises the tide for the community as a whole.

BBBS is always looking for new partners who are interested in supporting our mission. To learn more about participating in BBBS’ Match Discount Partner Program, contact Christina Eisenlord at ceisenlord@bigmentoring.org or 512-807-3611.

For a complete list of BBBS’ current Match Discount Partners, please visit our website at Bigmentoring.org/Volunteer/Match Discount Partners or click here