Big Brother Big Sisters of Central Iowa (BBBSCI), winner of the 2020 Quality award, is calling out for a need for mentors in Iowa.
BBBSCI is one of the Largest mentoring organizations in the country. They’ve been around for more than 100 years nationally, including 53 years locally. They match adults (Bigs) along with Children (Littles) to create and support one-to-one mentoring relationships that bring power to the youth.
From July 2020 to June 2021 the program in Iowa has served 550 youth, with the average age being 12. At Least 75% of the youth come from single parent households and 80% of families make less than $25,000 a year.
“There’s a lot of fun! There’s a lot of joy that comes into it. In my mind nothing is better than sharing in a child’s first-time experience…” said Danielle Kuhn who is the Volunteer Recruitment coordinator at BBBSCI.
Kuhn continues “… seeing someone’s eyes light up when they didn’t think they could do something and you help them realize that they could. I mean that just, it’s an amazing thing to see and really it’s life changing for you and the child”
Kuhn grew up in Des Moines Iowa and has been in the BBBSCI program for 2 and a half years.
“Helping coach them, support them, guide them and problem-solve and kind of do all the above to try to help them create a successful friendship and a long-term relationship so just been able to see the pros and all the wonderful things that happen because of mentoring and that’s a big reason why I got involved and why I continue to be involved for as long as that I have” said Tony Leo the Director of programs and operations.
Leo has been involved in the organization for 16 years and has been in his current role for five to six years. When Leo was in his masters program at the University of Iowa, he did his practicum in the BBBSCI program and ever since then he’s been with the program.
“I’ve known Big Brothers Big Sisters since probably when I was in elementary school and right away, I figured it out. I remember some kids were in it and always thought it was pretty cool that they got to hang out and they would actually meet with Big Brother Big Sister during the actual school day…” said Noel Aguirre who works as an application engineer and is a mentor at BBBSIC. He has been with the program for 3 years.
Aguirre continues “…I never knew of anybody who was in college so for me it was like if I joined Big Brother Big Sister sure I can make a difference myself; but at least get exposed to somebody who has gone to college and kind of put that as an option for them in their life.”
With the pandemic there has been a big shift into every aspect of the job at BBBSCI.
“We made a big shift and shifted some opportunities obviously getting together one on one building relationships that’s what we do. That was kind of taken away and put on pause and we had a lot of conversations on what we are going to do. How are we going to handle this…” said Leo
From anybody’s perspective creativity comes into play and this brought a new opportunity for the BBBSCI.
Leo continued“…we created a big virtual academy and pulled a lot of virtual opportunities in which our matches can engage either on zoom or facetime or playing games. Just trying to give them the opportunity to still connect and find ways to connect and develop that relationship instead of just hitting pause and not continue, we took that initiative.” said Leo
With the virtual academy Leo and many of the people got a lot of good feedback from the matches. This virtual landscape made it easier to connect the Mentors and Youth participating in the program.
“The kids that we serve were impacted, I mean like kids throughout the community, even those that we aren’t serving. I mean it was such a scary time for everybody and so it could have been easier just to say well we’re just going to pause and not do much but the kids they needed their Bigs at that time more than ever…” said Kuhn
With many kids being locked indoors during the pandemic; and having to go to school virtually. These mentors have been a key asset for many youth in the community.
Kuhn continued “…they were the one source of consistency that they can still have; they weren’t able to get together with their friends. They were all doing everything virtually and so even just having somebody to connect one-on-one with even if it had to be virtual until they can get back in person. That’s what drove us to do all of these things.”
During this time a lot of families were struggling and having to find a way to make ends meet. With many of the youth there families income comes around less than $25,000.
“We were hearing about their struggle. So we did what we could to share information or share resources. We weren’t necessarily the sole source for a lot of things. if there were meals available in the community, technical assistance or homework helper; kids needed that we try to pass those things along to the families…” said Kugn
In the Height of all of it, BBBSCI connected with other programs and organizations in bringing food to families in need.
“Which they really really appreciate. There are at least 40 or 50 families that would come every week to get supplies so yeah Mike Daniels. It was just definitely a huge need from a lot more families so we did what we could to try to provide some resources for those during that time.” said Leo
During this year BBBSCI did a fundraiser known as the Bowl for Kids sake fundraiser, this event took place at Val Lanes. Promoting and advocating for Youth who need a role model in their life.
“We’re pretty proud about that and also like our Bowl for Kids sake fundraiser that we just did. We actually had a record year from that so we had to have the team that put it on, they had to be creative and figure out how we can do this. How can we do it safely and still do it successfully…” said Kuhn
Kuhn continues “…just take a unique approach to have it end up being our best year ever. I think we still found ways to make sure that the organization could have a great year.”
From the fundraiser over 630 bowlers participated, and in ten social distance bowling sessions the team managed to raise over $197,000!
“That in person connection just shows how vital it is the work that we’re doing and what mentors do for kids and I’m just how very important it is it’s like you don’t realize it until it’s until it’s gone.” said Leo
Right now with the 550 youth being mentored and being served in the community, many of them when they grow up come back in the program because of how the program impacted them.
“That impact you’re going to have it’s going to be slower than what you will expect, maybe in twenty years I will get a call saying “Hey you actually had an impact” ” said Aguirre
With kids at a young age having a hard time to recognize and explain how much these mentors mean to them. When many of these littles grow up they eventually become a Big in their own community.
BBBSCI offers a variety of programs and resources for many of the matches in the program. They offer free activities and as well programs like College & Career Prep.
Right now BBBSCI is starting up a new program in the works right now in wanting to specifically help young girls from communities of color. This program is geared towards nine to 12 years old and it’s called I am Enough.
“It’s something that’s just new so we’re always looking at new ways to identify what needs are and try to do something different and Unique to benefit the Youth that we serve…” said Kuhn
Kuhn continues“…one of the things that will continue to do is some more training opportunities for our Bigs. We kind of started a diversity equity and inclusion Workshop this past year and had a few different workshops and seminars based on those topics so that’ll be something that we will look at continuing in. ”
With training and programs this offers many opportunities for both Bigs and Littles to get involved and to bond with each other.
“I think that it’s easier than you think. I hear from a lot of Bigs as they get to do activities that they wouldn’t otherwise get to do. They can explore some things around around the Des Moines Area together and try some new things..” said Leo
Leo continued “… for the whole time that they’re together we talk to them on a regular basis. We help them develop that relationship and we answer any questions they have. We do problem-solve if that’s needed. We support and encourage everything and so we’re there to help you be successful and we’re here every step of the way.”
“A Lot of times when you want to do something; it’s kind of nice to be pushed in a different direction. That itself allows you to grow and the kids get to grow as they get older and improve and meet their potential as well.” Said Aguirre
These kids and having role models in their lives who are open into having conversations and presenting them careers they may never have thought of. BBBSCI truly serves the youth in the community.
“These kids are our future. They are going to come up and will work for organizations in the city. Our goal is to help them go to college or have careers and be successful in whatever way…” said Kuhn
Kuhn continues “…we still got about a hundred kids on our waitlist, about 70% of them are little boys and so we definitely have a need especially for males in our program.”
With there being over 100 youth in the waiting list 70% are male and 30 percent are female. Also about 51% come from communities of color.
To support the program and to stay informed, BBBSCI is on Linkedin, Facebook, and Instagram. To become a mentor or to sign up your child you may visit their website for more information. For any assistance call (515) 288-9025 or email [email protected] for any questions.