What is Big Brothers Big Sisters?

Big Brothers Big Sisters of Washington County (BBBS) is a non-profit agency, established in 1969, that serves Washington County families. The mission of the agency is: Provide children facing adversity with strong and enduring, professionally supported on-to-one relationships that change their lives for the better, forever. BBBS offers one-to-one mentoring to children between the age of 6-14 when matched and continuing to age 18, the children are from single parent families or two parent families facing adversity. Volunteer mentors can choose between School-Based or Community-Based mentoring options.

How is Big Brothers Big Sisters different from other mentoring programs?

Big Brothers Big Sisters of America (BBBSA) is the oldest and most highly respected youth mentoring organization in the nation, with over a century of proven success. Locally, Big Brothers Big Sisters (BBBS) has been serving Washington County children since 1969. During the enrollment process, professional staff get to know the children and volunteers in the program. The Enrollment Professional makes matches based on personality, location, shared interests and volunteer and parent preferences in an effort to make compatible, quality matches that will result in life-long friendships. After the match is made, the agency provides ongoing, professional support and resources to volunteers and families throughout their involvement with BBBS.

Why should I volunteer as a Big?

For a few hours a month, a volunteer can be a kid again. Even better, a volunteer makes a big difference in the community and the life of a child. It’s fun, it doesn’t take a lot of time and volunteers continue to report that being a Big Brother or Sister is an unbelievably rewarding experience. Children with on-to-one mentors have a increased change of success in becoming self sufficient, contributing member of the community.

What is a “Big”?

A “Big” is how BBBS refers to an adult who volunteers as a Big Brother or Big Sister to a “Little” or a child. The role of a “Big” is first and foremost a caring friend and role model to a child, or “Little.”

I don’t live in Washington County – is there a program near me?

BBBS agencies are located throughout America, including in surrounding counties and the entire state of Wisconsin. To find an agency location near you, please visit the national web site at www.bbbsa.org.

Who is eligible to be a big?

Must be at least 16 years old and live or work in Washington County to be a Big Brother or Sister. Volunteers are not required to have previous experience with kids or a special degree, they just need to be a consistent and responsible friend to a child. Community-Based volunteers must have a valid driver’s license and car insurance. A Big Brother or Big Sister is not a substitute parent, but simply an extra friend and role model in the child’s life.

What sort of commitment do I have to make?

In order to build a friendship that will have a positive effect on a child’s life, Volunteers must commit to meeting with their Little at least twice per month for at least one year when volunteering as a Community-Based Mentor. As a School-Based Mentor, volunteers are asked to commit to meeting with their Little for about one hour, once a week for the length of the school year, with mail or email contact over summer.

I don’t have experience with kids – can I still be a mentor?

Definitely! Big Brothers and Sisters are not babysitters or social workers – they’re friends.

A Match Support Specialist is available to support the match and to help with any questions or conflicts. (a one-time “BIG 101 Training” is provided to each volunteer prior to being matched.)

Will being a Big cost me a lot of money?

The emphasis is on spending time, not money. Volunteer are encouraged to pursue low cost or no cost activities.  Volunteers are not responsible for providing food, clothing, shelter or paying any other expenses for the child or his or her family. In the Community-Based program, volunteers are expected to pay for expenses incurred during an outing or special activity (e.g. tickets to a Brewers game) they choose to participate in with their Little. (Some of these expenses are tax deductible. See a tax professional for further information.)  BBBS provides suggestions for free or inexpensive outings and event. Where do the children come from and what are they like? Big Brothers Big Sisters serves children between the ages of 6 and 14 when initially matched, primarily from single-parent homes. Children are voluntatily enrolled by their parent or guardian. The agency also receives referrals from schools and other youth service agencies.  Littles come from all socioeconomic and racial backgrounds and live throughout Washington County.

How is my Little Selected?

Both the volunteers and families go through an application and interview process in which details about the child, the parent and the volunteer are gathered to help make the best possible match. These specifics include age, location, activities, personality, past experience and family background. The initial match introduction is facilitated by program staff.

What kinds of things do Bigs and Littles do together?

Being a Big is not about planning major events or outings – it’s just about sharing your time with a child. The activities chosen together will be based on mutual interests. Some examples include playing basketball, cooking a meal, planting a garden, helping with schoolwork, learning to play a musical instrument, going to the zoo or reading a book. The goal is to expose the child to a variety of positive activities and teach basic life skills.

What is the process for becoming a Big?

The process is very simple and easy! To become a Big Brother or Sister, a volunteer fills out an enrollment form and provides BBBS with three references and permission to conduct a background check. The Enrollment/Match Specialist  interviews the volunteer and discusses their preferences in a match, such as age, interests, personality and location, the volunteer will attend a one time two hour training session. The Enrollment/Match Specialist selects a Ready-to-be-Matched child who appears to be a good match and will preview the Little with the volunteer. After hearing about the child, the volunteer decides whether or not they agree with the match. The parent is also given the volunteer’s profile. Once the parent and child approve a match meeting is set, facilitated by the program staff.

What type of ongoing support will I receive?

As a volunteer you will have regular, ongoing contact with your Match Support Specialist to ensure all participants are developing a healthy relationship and are following agency guidelines. The Match Support Specialist is always available to answer questions, help with match concerns and provide match advice. Supporting the match is the agency’s biggest role and function after a match is created! Big Brothers Big Sisters also provides an online calendar, activity ideas, e-mail alerts, mentoring resources and a monthly newsletter.

Are there other ways to support Big Brothers Big Sisters if I don’t become a mentor?

BBBS can serve more children when we have financial donations and new community partnerships to recruit volunteers. There is also a need for special event support from time to time. All of these are ways to support the mission of BBBS.