Nowhere is the saying “it takes a village to raise a child” demonstrated better than in the work of Big Brothers Big Sisters of Island County.
Founded by community members in 1999, the local non-profit builds vital connections between local children and mentors – adults or older youth.
“It’s a one-to-one mentorship, and that’s our focus,” explains Karen Cox, Secretary for the Board of Directors noting as families struggle more and more, those connections offer a tangible way people can help. “The work we’re doing is pretty impactful for the community, but it also tends to be invisible.”
Welcoming children between the ages of six and 16 who are experiencing some kind of adversity, the program matches “Littles” with “Bigs” with similar interests, with the goal of “changing children’s lives for the better, forever,” explains Tiffany Scribner, Executive Director.
While the goal is to create relationships that last at least a year, “in many cases they last a lifetime,” she says, noting children who have gone through the program often report a variety of benefits, including higher grades, improved friendships, parental and social connections, and better self-esteem. A national independent study found that participants in the program are 46 percent less likely to begin using illegal drugs and 52 percent less likely to skip school.
“Just one connection with a caring adult or older youth changes a child’s life.”
Could you be a mentor?
As one of few remaining small independent chapters, with 360-plus volunteers, a growing community need also brings the need for more mentors.
Who do they look for?
“The right mentor is the person who really wants to be a mentor,” Tiffany says, adding they don’t look for specific skills or achievements to qualify someone. “Life experience often makes for the best mentors. They really just need to have the best interests of the child in mind and want to share what they have to share.”
Thorough criminal record checks are part of the screening process and volunteers receive a variety of training and support.
Two models to choose from
Two different BBBS programs are offered. The school-based program connects Bigs and Littles in the school setting for about an hour once a week. In the community-based program, they connect two or three times a month for a few hours, doing activities both enjoy. “It could be anything they’re both interested in,” Tiffany says.
And that’s why carefully considered matches are important. “If someone really enjoys playing video games, we’re not going to match them with someone who prefers being active outside.”
Activities are typically low-cost or free; while Bigs pay for themselves, families or the organization pay for activity costs for their Littles.
How you can help:
With each match requiring an investment of $1,200+ a year, the community’s support is vital. In addition to online or in-person donations, and spring’s Bowl for Kids Sake, the organization hosts the annual Festival of Trees, Oak Harbor’s glitziest fundraiser of the year and a festive launch to the holiday season. More importantly, the event, which features a formal dinner, live and silent auctions held at the Elks Lodge, raises over half of Big Brother Big Sisters’ annual budget!