The Rewards of Mentorship Revealed: Big Brothers Big Sisters
BY MELISSA WALKER
Helping children succeed and reach their full potential in life is the cornerstone of the Big Brothers Big Sisters prevention-based mentoring program offered through the Family Service Agency of Santa Barbara County.
The organization matches at-risk children ages 6-15, with a pre-screened, trained and thoughtfully matched adult mentor.
The program is driven by over 200 enthusiastic and committed volunteer mentors, aka “Bigs,” many who are practicing professionals in their respective fields and active members of the community that donate up to 6-8 hours a month to help children, or “Littles,” realize their true potential.
Many of the 222 mentees currently enrolled in the program are from low-income homes with single or incarcerated parents, and are in vital need of a positive and supportive role model that a one-on-one mentorship provides.
The mentor and mentee are paired for 18 months, and are encouraged to spend quality time together by participating in shared interest in academia and activities, such as playing sports, eating out, going to the movies, sporting events, hiking, visiting museums and the zoo, and other activities financed by $1,500 funding raised for each match.
The program carefully chooses adult mentors who develop strong relationships with their “Littles,” cultivating trust, friendship, self-esteem, consistency, and the all-important support system, which is often lacking for the mentee in a challenging home environment.
According to a recent study the 18-month pairing process works.
The 2013 study found that youth participating in the program improved academic performance by 86 percent, avoided delinquency by 89 percent, while 90 percent gained a stronger sense of self-confidence, and 85 percent made safer and better decisions.
2015 Santa Barbara County Big Brother and Big Sister of the Year recipients John Shade and Tiffany Allen explained the importance of one-on-one mentorship that impact the lives of their matched “Littles” in a positive way.
And as role models they reflect on the personal rewards of helping the youth expand thrive in a loving and supportive environment.
Shade, an Air Force veteran, is a Big Brother from Santa Maria. He was paired with 15-year-old Marcos Macias, a student at Santa Maria High School, in August 2010.
Shade admits that their relationship has flourished over the years – partly due to a mutual respect they share for one another and common interests in various activities.
We do a lot of fun things together, paintball, go-cart racing and miniature golfing, and we go to a lot of theatrical performances which gives him a chance to be out and involved, and see talented people presenting themselves in a way that’s a positive atmosphere for a young man his age, because he is growing up bit by bit and becoming very, very mature.”
The outings have also included a cultural spin, introducing Marcos to theater stage productions as Shade has utilized his role as board treasurer of the Santa Maria Civic Theatre, where he has also performed, directed and managed performances.
Volunteerism also plays a very important role in the relationship.
Marcos helps to clean the stage prior to the opening of each performance and helps to set up props for a performance and oversees the reception area.
And when he turns 16, he’s looking forward to working with a mentor as a volunteer for the California Department of Transportation (Cal-trans) Adopt- A-Highway (AAH) program.
“It’s a neat relationship being a mentor because not only do I get to give to him but he gives back to the community,” said Shade.
“That’s one of the things that I’ve wanted to install in him is not only is my volunteer work with Big Brothers and Big Sisters something that benefits him, but all the volunteer work he does gives back to the community and it become that one big circle where we are all helping each other.”
Allen is an emergency dispatcher for the Santa Barbara County Sheriff’s Department and currently is the Big Sister mentor for Tania Reyes, a seventh-grader at La Cumbre Junior High School in Santa Barbara. They were matched together in 2011.
Having herself grown up surrounded by domestic violence and with parents addicted to drugs, Allen feels her relationship with Tania has been mutually beneficial.
“She is one of the most polite children I have ever met,” she said. “She is so energetic, which in turn gives me more energy during our visits, and she inspires me to want to be a better person and role model for her.”
The staff at the Family Service Agency performs a thorough vetting process to find the best fit.
“Tania and I are a perfect match,” Allen said. “When I was her age I was incredibly shy and introverted, and just like her I had a hard time making and retaining friends. So, as someone who has been in her shoes and overcame the fear and anxiety associated with meeting new people, I can help her work through it,” said Allen.
“Some of the things that we focus a lot on are really bringing her out of her shell. There has been a huge difference from the little girl I met just three and a half year ago to who she is today. She’s much more confident, more engaged and speaks up a lot more now.”
According to Allen the pairs relationship has evolved over the years into a cherished relationship based on trust understanding and communication.
“What used to be building sand castles and going to the park and swinging, and doing arts and crafts, has really turned into a beautiful friendship built on trust where we spend time together talking and catching up on each others lives. I really enjoy it,” said Allen.
Founded in 1899, the Family Service Agency strives to strengthen families and individuals of all ages and ethnicities through locations in Carpinteria, Lompoc, Santa Barbara and Santa Maria, ensuring access to food, shelter and other basic needs.
Children enrolled in Big Brothers Big Sisters programs are more likely to avoid illegal drugs, alcohol and violence, achieve in school activities, and form stronger family relationships, according to a recent study, The Mentoring Effect.
“What I’ve learned over the last few years is that mentors are just normal, everyday people, with a heart and desire to make a difference in the life of a child,” Allen said. “And it doesn’t require teaching math equations or history lessons — it merely takes being a consistent, loving and positive adult influence.
“In the last few years I have become someone who Tania can count on to be her loudest cheerleader and biggest fan. She has the ability to reach higher and do anything that she puts her mind to and I remind her of that fact as much as can.”