At-risk youths have a powerful ally in Colorado Springs. The Pikes Peak branch of Big Brothers Big Sisters Colorado (BBBSC) serves the region’s kids through a powerful one-to-one mentorship program that provides friendship, support and encouragement.
“The mentoring relationship is designed to provide a sense of safety, security and emotional support, while helping to build social skills and positive relationships,” says BBBSC’s Pikes Peak office executive director, Danielle Summerville.
BBBSC serves children ages 9 to 13 years old in single-parent, low-income households, and the relationships between mentors and mentees can (and often do) last beyond the first year. Summerville explains that this target group is in great need of positive adult interaction. More than 45,000 kids in Colorado Springs and Denver (where BBBSC was first established) fit the organization’s target demographic.
“Research has shown children and teens living in poverty are at greater risk for several negative outcomes, including poor academic achievement, abuse and neglect, behavioral and socio-emotional problems, physical health problems, teen pregnancy and dropping out of school,” says Summerville, adding they are also at risk for homelessness, underemployment or unemployment.
“Mentors offer youth a chance to achieve educational success, avoid risky and delinquent behaviors, and improve their self-confidence and sense of future,” says Summerville.
Volunteer mentors commit to devote at least one year to meeting with their mentee, setting aside several days each month to spend a few quality hours together. Consistency is crucial to building a positive, trusting relationship between bigs and littles. Adults must be more than 21 years of age, pass a background check and have a driver’s license, car and car insurance. BBBSC provides an orientation and monthly check-ins.
Summerville says the list of littles currently awaiting a mentor is about 30. However, that list can grow, as they receive several referrals each week. That number can be difficult to pare down even with enough mentors, considering that compatibility is key to ensuring the relationship thrives and the child truly benefits from the time spent with their big. That compatibility doesn’t rely on a perfect mentor, though. Bigs and littles could have small things in common, like a love of comic books or shared enjoyment of a given sport. Those commonalities create a foundation on which the pair can build a friendship.
“We are always looking for more mentors to help find the perfect match for the youth in waiting,” says Summerville.
Mentees have a role to play in building the relationship, too. The organization’s website notes that children need to want to be involved to get any benefit out of having a big brother or big sister. Kids who have experienced a recent trauma or who are currently in the midst of family upheaval might be better off waiting. BBBSC advises families with special circumstances to reach out and discuss potential challenges in order to devise the best course of action for that child.
Asked what has been most meaningful about her time with BBBSC, Summerville answers, “The bond that I have witnessed amongst hundreds of mentors and mentees. They start off as complete strangers and end as family.”