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.”

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.”

BBBS’ 2018 Bigs of the Year

 

An experienced and trusted adviser, someone who gives a younger or less experienced person help and advice over a period of time” –  that is the dictionary definition of a mentor. But at Big Brothers Big Sisters of Central Texas, our mentors, our Bigs, are that and so much more as they build deep friendships that change children’s lives for the better.

Consequently, when National Mentoring Month arrives in January, BBBS is ready to celebrate and honor the amazing volunteers who give their time and energy to help children succeed.

“As we enter a new year, it is only appropriate to pause and consider the importance of volunteerism at BBBS. National Mentoring Month is a good reminder that we can only realize our vision of helping children achieve success in life because of the service of our volunteer mentors – our Big Brothers and Sisters,” said Brent Fields, CEO of BBBS of Central Texas.

“This past year our Bigs contributed almost 60,000 hours of volunteer service to our Littles.  You can’t put a price tag on that kind of contribution and it’s critical to everything we do.  On behalf of our staff, board, donors, and about 1,000 kids served last year – I want to say a big “THANKS” to everyone serving (past, present or future) in this transformational way!”

“National Mentoring Month is a great time for BBBS,” said Joe Strychalski, Vice President of Programs. “Not only are we able to thank and recognize our amazing volunteers, but it’s also a terrific opportunity for us to share more about the power of mentoring, spread awareness of all the work that BBBS is doing in the community, and recruit new volunteers for the program!  January is by far our busiest time for inquiries from both prospective parents and volunteers, which is great – we are always in need of new volunteers, especially men and bilingual Bigs!”

During National Mentoring Month BBBS recognizes its volunteers by announcing the agency’s 2018 Central Texas Bigs of the Year.  Winners at the local level go on to be considered for statewide, and then possibly national, Big of the Year honors. BBBS of Central Texas’ 2018 Bigs of the Year are Big Sister Maggie Johnson and Big Brother Nicholas Johnson (no relation). Maggie Johnson has also been recognized as the 2018 Big Sister of the Year for the state of Texas.

Maggie & Kirida

“When I met my little sister, Kirida, in 2012, she was initially pretty shy with me,” said Maggie. “So, we spent most of our time together in the beginning just doing fun activities to try to help her relax and have a space where she didn’t have to worry so much.”

Kirida was struggling at school when she first met her Big Sister and was often in trouble for fighting due to bullying from other students. She was very reactive, struggling to manage her emotions, and the other students knew she could be taunted into fighting. She was suspended from school almost weekly.

“I could tell that Kirida was bright and had amazing potential,” said Maggie, “because despite the trouble that she frequently was in at school for her behavior, she consistently made really good grades. Since academics were not a problem, I knew that we had to work on the other things that she needed to successfully reach her goals of graduating from high school and attending college. My focus became that of helping her increase her self-esteem, critical thinking skills, and coping strategies.”

“When I was having a rough time we would just sit in Maggie’s car in front of my house and map out my day. We would talk about how I felt and positive ways to react,” said Kirida. “Maggie was the main reason I kept from fighting during those times. Everyone told me that I would wind up dead or in jail, but Maggie was the one who asked, “What is the root of all of this? What and who are you angry at?”

“When I was battling depression, one thing that always kept me from self-harm was Maggie’s comment, “There are people out here who love you, whether you know it or not, and who are willing to help,” Kirida continued.

The two became much like actual sisters as Maggie offered support and encouragement, eventually helping her Little Sister find her niche on the school’s wrestling team. Being part of the team provided Kirida with a physical outlet that helped her manage her emotions while gaining confidence and self-control.

Kirida’s mom was working two jobs and going to school at night, so it was Maggie who often took Kirida to and from practices. Both women were standing side-by-side, however, as Kirida walked across the stage at her high school graduation. Kirida recently completed her first semester at Texas A&M as a first-generation college student.

“Our match gave her someone to support her and to cheer her on when things got tough,” said Maggie. “Kirida is one of the most resilient and determined young women I know and she has been an inspiration and a wonderful addition to my life. She has told me that she feels like we are “family” and always will be. I feel the same way and think that we will be connected for a very long time.”

Nicholas and Tiy

“I can still remember my first meeting with my Little Brother Tiy (short for Mi’Tiy) who was 11,” said Nicholas. “Honestly, I didn’t really know what to talk about. I’d never hung out with an 11-year-old for longer than 10 minutes before. I was nervous and awkward, but Tiy either didn’t notice, or didn’t care – or it might have been the shortest match in history.”

Throughout the next months and years Nicholas learned that he didn’t need to dazzle Tiy with brilliant conversation or flashy activities, he just needed to be there. “With both of his parents working multiple jobs to support him and his 4 siblings, he spent a lot of time at home and didn’t get a chance to do much. After I figured that out, I stopped stressing about outings as much. I realized that I didn’t need the “perfect” activity, I just needed to show up,” said Nicholas.  “The most memorable, random activity we ever did together was going to Dick’s Sporting Goods and walking around the store for over an hour. We went into each section and just played with the equipment: baseball, football, soccer, lacrosse. We even got to use their golf simulator!”

As the pair’s relationship grew, Tiy became more open and asked more questions about complicated topics. “It took some time, but I discovered that I didn’t need to have all the answers; sometimes I just needed to listen,” said Nicholas.

Being there and listening impacted Tiy in a deep way.  “I don’t know where I would be if Mr. Nick was not in my life,” said Tiy.  “He is always there for me at my football games, when I need help understanding something at school, or even if I just have a question about something.”

“Thank you, Mr. Nick, for your time, for all the new activities we have done together, for encouraging me and helping me think about the future.  Thank you for being my Big Brother… for real.”

Mentoring Month is a time for all of us to remember and thank our mentors – people who took the time to be there for us, to guide us and to make a difference in our lives forever. At BBBS we are proud to continue this rich tradition of giving back, and we are honored to work alongside the Bigs, children and families who enrich our lives – and each other’s – every day.

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

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.

The Stages of a Match Relationship

You hear the stories, you see the results, and you’re interested in becoming a Big Brother or Sister. What is one of the most important things you need to know before becoming a Big?

It takes time.

“It takes time,” said Ellen Harsch, enrollment supervisor at BBBS. “It takes time for any person to build a relationship with someone else, but it especially takes time for kids to build trust and to form meaningful relationships, particularly with new adults that they don’t know at all.”

This is something new Bigs can easily forget at the beginning of a match as they get caught up in their enthusiasm to help, to mentor and to make a difference. The time factor can also get lost behind preconceived notions regarding how a match “should” progress. Consequently, BBBS holds training sessions for Bigs to help them understand the common stages of match relationships.

“Every match is different and moves through the stages at their own pace,” Ellen continued. “But when you look at matches across the board, there are a lot of similar patterns. And it is important for Bigs to understand these stages so that they know what to expect and that they are not alone. For example, if your Little doesn’t immediately trust you, this is normal. Other Bigs experience this too.”

The first stage of a match relationship – the “Early Development Stage” – is about building trust. At this point, Bigs and Littles are trying to figure each other out. Littles may try to get their Big’s approval or to impress them.

“At the beginning of any relationship you’re nervous, excited, and unsure but committed to the relationship,” said Christina Snell, match support supervisor. “There’s an emphasis on getting to know one another, talking, asking questions, and being consistent in the time you give. If you don’t see each other and get to know one another, it’s hard to build a strong relationship.”

Being consistent with communication and time is critical during this early stage, especially during the first 3 months. For Bigs with younger Littles, it’s even more important, as parents are working to feel comfortable with the Big/Little relationship as well.

“We had 8 and 9-year-old siblings in a match who were home-schooled by their mom and the match had to adhere to a rigid schedule,” said Christina, “because younger kids work better with a schedule and so do parents. With every match, the parent or guardian, the Little, and the Big all need to work together to find the rhythm and pace that works best for them so that they are all on the same page.”

“At the beginning of a match, if the parent doesn’t offer as much support, a Big may also need to be prepared to take the initiative to keep match activities and plans going,” Christina added.

After the initial stage, matches move into what is described as the “Growth Stage.” This is probably the most crucial period in the development of the Big/Little relationship, possibly even a turning point in the relationship. It is common during this stage for Littles to test their Bigs to learn more about them and to find out how much they can get away with. The Little may also be observing the Big to find reasons not to not trust them or to determine whether the Big will leave.

“During the Growth Stage matches often say, ‘Okay, we know each other. We’re in an established relationship. Now what?’” Christina said.  “This is when they need to start exploring interests and activities, and doing new things that might be outside of their comfort zone, just to keep the excitement alive and the relationship moving forward.”

“This is also when Bigs may start wanting and needing more input from their Littles. Bigs will sometimes say ‘I’d like my Little to give me ideas for match activities,’ ‘I need them to say thank you,’ or ‘Does my Little really like me?’” Christina said. “At this point Bigs sometimes start to question the match. For example, if a match is doing the same thing all the time – going out to eat or to the movies, the Big may tell us ‘There’s got to be more to the match than this.’ But when we ask the Little about the match they’ll say ‘This is everything to me. This is just what I need.’ So, we remind Bigs that their Littles just enjoy being with them. They don’t care as much about the type of activities they do with their Bigs as they do about the time spent together. This is also a stage at which BBBS’ match support team can offer suggestions and recommend new activities.”

The next stage in the match relationship is the “Maturity Stage,” a point at which the match relationship has become more positive and realistic, and where activities are often less structured. By this point most Bigs have shed their preconceived notions regarding the match and their Littles. Bigs have also often seen their Littles grow and develop.

“This is the coolest level. This is when they really get it,” said Christina. “By this point the Big has shown that they’re committed to the relationship, that they are not going anywhere, and that they know they’ve just got to keep the conversation going. Both Big and Little realize that they are in the match relationship to be friends, and that the Big needs the Little as much as the Little needs the Big.”

According to BBBS’ match support team, this is also the point when both Bigs and Littles need to be reminded of the importance of their relationship. “People get really comfortable in relationships and may feel taken for granted,” said Christina. “At this stage, we offer a lot of positive reinforcement and feedback. We let the Big know that their Little’s family has a lot of good things to say about them and that they are so grateful for the time they give. And we let the family know how much the Big looks forward to spending time with their child. This support reinforces and validates the relationship so that Bigs and Littles know they are on the right track.”

Helping Bigs, and families, understand the natural stages of a match relationship is another way BBBS provides match relationships with the support they need to thrive. “We want happy participants,” said Ellen.

Happy participants lead to positive mentoring relationships, which lead to more kids succeeding in life. It’s all just a matter of time.

Chris & Jeremiah: Growing Together

Little Brother Jeremiah could hardly contain his excitement when he finally got to meet his Big Brother Chris three years ago. Despite his enthusiasm however, Jeremiah was not completely ready to trust in this new relationship. In fact, according to his guardian, it was hard for him to trust any adult since he felt most adults in his life had walked out on him. However, his new Big Brother began to change all of that.

“He had no self-confidence,” said Chris. “He’d moved around between homes and hadn’t had any stability. He didn’t have anyone who was giving him attention for any extended time. I began talking to him about the things he was great at and the things I loved about him. I told him about ways I had failed in the past and ways that I had overcome adversity, helping him to see that it’s okay to fail and that failing doesn’t mean you’re a failure or a bad person.”

One activity that stands out as a huge confidence builder for Jeremiah is the reading the two have done together before their regular outings. When the match began, Jeremiah could barely read and had been held back for his second grade year. “So, I shifted the focus of our outings to education,” Chris explained. “During the first 45 minutes of each visit we would get kolaches, go to my house and spend time reading and writing. Then we would go swimming.”

Chris often took a creative approach to helping Jeremiah learn.  “I noticed that he loved technology and always wanted to play with my phone,” Chris continued. “So, I started having him text members of my family, pranking them into thinking it was me. Jeremiah loved it and came up with the most off-the-wall-texts, but he was reading and writing.”

The creative approach plus the structured reading time paid off as Jeremiah passed his grade level and made all A’s and B’s this past year. “He’s proud of himself and I let him know that I am proud of him too,” said Chris. “I’m especially proud of him for continually trying, and working, and overcoming adversity.”

The pair also spend time going to video arcades, bowling, roller skating and swimming. Jeremiah has gotten to know Chris’ wife and son as well.

“Jeremiah is a great kid. He’s become family,” said Chris. “Sometimes I’m a father figure, or a brother, uncle, or friend. There’s a lot to love about him.”

“My upbringing was less than ideal, and spending time with Jeremiah helps me reframe my childhood. It helps me see it through the eyes of an 8 or a 10-year-old,” said Chris. “This is one of my closest relationships. I’m glad Jeremiah’s in my life.”

Your support makes life-changing relationships like this possible.  Thank you.

Learn more about our Game Changers program at www.gamechangersaustin.org.

Learn more about Big Brothers Big Sisters’ Giving Society here