My little sister squints up at me, her head tilted quizzically, her lips pursed in concentration. “Do I like to eat hay?” she asks, “Do I live on a farm?” When I respond in the affirmative, she squeals with delight, “I’m a cow!!” And for the umpteenthtime she has trounced me at Hedbanz.
This is basically how I have spent my Friday lunch break for the last 7 months–playing games, doing arts and crafts, attempting to make origami for dummies–essentially anything that will help endear me to my 9 year-old little sister, Maria*.
Maria is not my biological sister (although sometimes when she is in rare form and full of stubbornness and sass I swear we could be related), but she is my “little” in the Big Brothers Big Sisters Program (BBBS). BBBS has been impacting the lives of children, ages 6-18, for over 100 years through strong, enduring, professionally supported one-to-one relationships. Originally starting because a New York City court clerk noticed the extremely high numbers of young boys who were passing through the court system, the program is modeled around the premise that having a positive relationship with an adult can produce lasting impact on a child’s life.
There are different ways to be a “Big” in the BBBS structure, with the two most common being the school-based (which I am a part of) and the community-based. The school-based “Bigs” meet their “Littles” once a week during the Little’s lunch period. The
community-based Bigs have more freedom, being able to see their Little in the evenings or on weekends and engage in a wider-range of activities (i.e. hikes, going to the park, listening to music, going on outings, etc.). There are additionally programs specifically for Littles who have an incarcerated parent, as well as the Bigs in Blue Program which encourages police officers to become Bigs, thus bridging the gap and breaking down stereotypes between at-risk youth and the authorities at a young age.
So you are probably thinking that this is all well and good, but what does it have to do with systems? With social justice? With sustainable change?
And the answer, is everything. This extremely simple, straight-forward model is creating change and impact in children that stays with them throughout the course of their entire lives. Proven change. An independent research organization studied a group of almost 1,000 children and found that the children who had Bigs in their life for a period of 18 months, when compared to their counterparts who were Big-less, were 46% less likely to begin using illegal drugs, 27% less likely to begin using alcohol, and 52% less likely to skip school. These children also had improved relationships within their families and more confidence in themselves and their schoolwork.
Children who don’t do drugs are more likely to become adults who don’t do drugs. Children who don’t use alcohol are more likely to become adults who don’t use alcohol. Children who don’t skip school are more likely to finish their education, providing them with more opportunities. And children who have better relationships with their families and more confidence in themselves are more likely to become well-adjusted and stable adults.
This program is such a good reminder to me, reiterating the fact that sometimes the most brilliant solutions are the most simple. That with one hour a week of your time, of my time, we are able to change lives, keep kids out of broken systems. I remember the first time I met Maria. I was so nervous and anxious, thinking of all of the advice I could give her, all of the words of wisdom I should impart. But that’s the great thing about Big Brothers Big Sisters–you are not supposed to try to be a role model or a teacher (they already have one of those). You are supposed to be a friend, a buddy, the caring adult to whom your little can confide in and look up to. You just be you, and the rest falls into place.
BBBS needs more Big Brothers and Big Sisters. Our kids need more Big Brothers and Big Sisters. Our world needs more Big Brothers and Big Sisters. Act now. Take the simple step. With one hour of your week you can change a life. Click here for more details.