I work for a non-profit organization called Big Brothers Big Sisters (BBBS). BBBS's mission is to create one-on-one mentoring relationships for at-risk children, “Littles”, through carefully monitored and supported matches. I co-run the school program in which “Bigs” meet with their “Littles” at the little’s schools during their lunch time, elective hour, or after-school program. I love my job because I am able to pair up children with a friend that also acts as a guide in different areas of their lives.
In order to create successful matches based on interests and needs, I interview potential mentors, children referred to the program, and parents or guardians. A requirement for children to be matched is to say “Yes, I want a Big Brother/Sister” after the staff explains them what this entails. We screen volunteers and select those who seem genuinely interested and committed in helping children build up strengths that they can utilize throughout their lives. Unfortunately, despite all our efforts, not all volunteers are able to fulfill their commitment for a variety of reasons and children often suffer the consequences.
I recently read one of our little’s interview who had been enrolled in the program for several years. She had had two Big Sisters who couldn’t fulfill their commitment of a year and as result, she blamed herself. During her second interview she stated that she really wanted someone to spend time with but that maybe she wasn’t good enough as her two previous big sisters had lost contact with both her and the agency without letting her know that they couldn’t be her Big Sister anymore.
Reading what she had said broke my heart. Her foster mom had enrolled her in the program wishing she could form a long lasting relationship with someone that she could look up to and instead, the opposite had happened leading to a decrease in her self-esteem. This caused me to reflect that as adults we often forget what being a child means.
To me, being a child means discovering the world through different experiences. Learning to differentiate the good from the bad and creating their own personality with the guidance of the ones they trust. Though children have less worries, they still feel as intensely as we, adults, do. They are hurt by what we say and do as well as what we don’t say and fail to do. At this age, in particular, everything they live and hear stays imprinted in their lives. Therefore, like adults, they need to be listened, cared, and loved for. They need our respect, support, and guidance in order to successfully lead the world we live in.
As for the little, thankfully, today I interviewed a woman who was a former little in the program and that is still in touch with her Big. Due to her experience, she was committed to give back to BBBS as her mentor “changed her life for the better”. She stated she would like to help a child build her self-confidence and do activities such as singing and dancing, two of this little’s favorite activities. She also plans on living in the city indefinitely and stay in touch with her as long as she lives. I’m crossing my fingers that this little finally found her devoted Big.
________________________________________________________________________ Alejandra Delgado is a counselor-in-training at the University of Florida. She volunteers as a Crisis Line Counselor and works as the School-Based Program Specialist at Big Brothers Big Sisters of Mid-Florida.