Do you want to help make a difference in a young person's life? Big Brothers Big Sisters of New York City is looking for mature and responsible volunteers who can become a friend and can provide guidance to children in need of a positive role model. For over 90 years, this not-for-profit agency has worked to face the challenges of caring for needy children and teenagers struggling to resist the pressures of urban life.
The success of the organization is largely due to their commitment to a Core One-to-One Mentoring Program, which matches disadvantaged youngsters ages 7-18 from single-parent homes with a trained volunteer. Troubled youths referred to the agency by police officers and the courts are placed in the High-Risk Mentoring Program. They are matched with volunteers who have received extra training.
What does it take to become a Big Brother or Sister? "Volunteers must be 21 years or older and have the time and availability to commit and serve as a positive role model," says Valerie Starks, senior case manager for the Core One-to-One Mentoring program. Big Brothers and Big Sisters come from all economic, educational and ethnic backgrounds. Interested volunteers must attend a one-hour orientation session, designed to give an overview of the agency and its services. Before matches are made, applicants are screened carefully by social workers and background checks are done.
After selection and training, social workers set up the initial meeting between mentor, parent and child. Boys are matched with men and girls are paired with women. Both volunteers and families must agree to the match and make a one-year commitment to see each other. At the initial meeting between the social worker, parent and child, the goals of the relationship are set. Volunteers and their matches see each other twice a month for four hours each; most activities take place on the weekends.
"We promote low-cost recreational and educational activities that will engage volunteer and child in conversation," says Starks. These include sports, going to museums, attending concerts and exploring neighborhoods. Volunteers must incur all costs for activities, which are tax deductible.
Youths are also encouraged to participate in volunteer experiences and to make a difference in someone else's life. Social workers support the matches and are in constant contact with all involved. They carefully monitor the progression of each relationship.
A great alternative for full-time workers short on extra time is the Workplace Mentoring Program. Volunteers from corporations make a commitment to give about two-and-a-half hours every two weeks for the duration of the program. Most of the group and one-to-one activities take place at work. Participants spend time on homework, talking to each other and learning about each other.
The average relationship between the matches is three years, but many last a lifetime. And very often, the relationship is a powerful one. According to Starks, "Volunteers provide guidance, support and friendship. Self-confidence is increased, socialization skills are increased, and academic motivation improves." Outside research indicates the High-Risk Mentoring Program has only a 10 percent re-arrest rate, as compared with an average of 50 percent for non-participating youngsters. In the Workplace Mentoring Program, not only do the youths involved usually change, but so do the employees and the company itself in terms of increased loyalty, communication and productivity.
In addition to the mentoring programs, Big Brothers Big Sisters also runs self-help groups that allow parents and teens to come together - with the guidance of a social worker - to work on personal concerns affecting their lives. The Center for Training and Family Services holds training workshops for community-based youth organizations to help them establish their own one-to-one youth mentoring programs. The agency also sponsors a series of social events for volunteers, parents and children throughout the year.
"Our theme is 'one family'," says Valerie Starks. "We like everyone to feel like they are part of our family."
Big Brothers Big Sisters of New York City serves 1,200 children and their families in the five boroughs, but there are more than 350,000 needy kids from single-parent homes who need your help. Volunteers who live in Queens or are willing to travel to Queens are needed to accommodate the increasing number of children in the borough who are in need of a mentor. There is also a slightly greater need for male volunteers since there is a longer waiting list of boys. For more information, contact Big Brothers Big Sisters of New York City, 223 East 30th Street, New York, NY 10016, (212) 686-2042, or visit the agency's website at http://www.bbbsny.org.