By Michelle Carter
Photos by: Memories by Michelle Photography | www.mbymphotos.com
Do you remember the adults in your childhood that made a difference in your life? The aunt that gave you great advice, that special teacher that encouraged you, or a coach that took you under his wing? Do you still recall and call-upon the life lessons they taught you, the self-confidence they gave you?
Many of us are lucky enough to have had adult mentors in our childhood who gave us the support and encouragement we needed to succeed, not only as children but later on in life as adults. Unfortunately, not all children are so lucky, and often it is children facing adversity that are missing those stable and positive adult role models.
Which is where the Big Brothers Big Sisters organization has been stepping in since 1904, building on the belief that inherent in every child is incredible potential that can be tapped-into through a positive relationship with an adult mentor. The organization is now the nation’s largest donor and volunteer-supported mentoring network.
Locally, the Big Brothers Big Sisters of Greater Sacramento has been working to help disadvantaged youth succeed and thrive since 1964. The chapter vets and matches adults with children and then the matches meet at least a few hours a month, sometimes more depending on everyone’s circumstances. Many matches are paired for several years, throughout the Little’s childhood, and some maintain relationships beyond. The organization’s own research shows that 93% of Littles say having a mentor is important to helping them achieve their goals and make better choices, while 94% of Littles felt that graduating from college is an important goal in large part due to the guidance of their mentor. The organization says that 77% of former Littles reported doing better in school because of their Big and 90% said that their Big helped them make better choices throughout their childhood. These relationships really make a difference!
Jennifer and Alivia have been matched for 5 years now. Their first outing was to a roller-skating rink back in June of 2013. They meet about twice a month.
“We both like painting,” says Alivia, “so we sometimes go to paint pottery. We also go to the movies together, go out to lunch, and we love trying new things we have never done before.”
Their outings have included visiting museums, going swimming, creating art projects, attending craft fairs, watching movies, visiting the zoo, playing mini golf, getting manicures and pedicures, and also just grabbing some dinner together. Jennifer also attends Alivia’s choir performances, volleyball games, and dance recitals whenever she can. Of course, those activities took place over five years of their relationship. “It’s really not a big time commitment on a monthly basis,” Jennifer says.
Like all new relationships, Alivia and Jennifer’s started slowly and has built and deepened over time. “I was a bit nervous at first,” Alivia admits. “I was worried that she may not like me. But we got along as soon as we met each other. I didn’t expect her to understand me so well. But she completely gets me! She gives me advice how to handle my problems. I also didn’t expect her to be so positive, she always has a smile on her face and is ready for anything the world has for her.”
“I was surprised how much I can relate to a 14 year-old even as an adult,” Jennifer agrees, “But also, I probably learn more from Alivia than she does from me.”
Like Jennifer, many Bigs find they get just as much out of the relationship as the child they are mentoring. “I really enjoy having a friend that is open to new experiences,” says Jennifer. “I love seeing Alivia try new foods or new activities for the first time and it has been really fun watching Alivia grow up into a young lady”.
For Dimitrius, matched with Hyland (also since 2013), he has appreciated having a young man to buddy around with. “I have only daughters and granddaughters so the thing I like most is having someone to go to River Cats, Kings and Sac Republic games with,” he says.
On a personal level, many volunteers, like Dimitrius, look to give back to their Littles some of what was lacking in their own childhood. “As a male who is a racial minority, I understand and realize the lack of role models who are actively involved in many of our young men’s lives,” he said. “I’m simply looking to be to Hyland the person I would have liked to have had when I was growing up.”
Filling that much-needed role in a child’s life, even when they have a present and loving parent, makes a real and lasting impact. “Youth love their parents,” explains Dimitrius, “but when they have an adult in their life who has no family ties to them and is spending time with them simply because they want to, that has a huge impact on their self-confidence.”
Alivia agrees, “Getting matched with my big was the best thing that has happened to me,” she says, “I made a new friend that gets me!”
If you’re interested in mentoring a local youth or if you have a child who you think could benefit from another, positive adult relationship in their life, the application and match process is easy and relatively quick. You can start your process online at the local chapter’s website https://BBBS-sac.org/. The Sacramento chapter is particularly looking for more male volunteers, so chat with those dads, brothers, and uncles and encourage them to volunteer!
Michelle Carter is a Sacramento-based writer and photographer. She has a 9yr old daughter and when she’s not exploring somewhere new with her, spends her weekends having fun with local families, playing, being goofy, and taking photos of it all. You can see her work at www.mbymphotos.com.