SJ-R Column – Big Brothers Big Sisters to note National Mentoring Month

As originally published in the Our Towns section of The State Journal Register.

Mentoring is a critical part of developing positive relationships within our community. It is proven to have a positive effect on academic, social, and economic outcomes for our young people, which in turn contribute to brighter futures, better schools and stronger communities for all.

January is National Mentoring Month and Big Brothers Big Sisters is proud to be leading the charge to encourage community engagement towards impacting the lives of our youth. Mentoring changing lives, builds relationships, challenges assumptions and introduces new ways of seeing the world.

For more than 100 years, Big Brothers Big Sisters has operated nationally under the belief that inherent in every child is the ability to succeed and thrive in life. As the nation’s largest donor and volunteer supported mentoring network, Big Brothers Big Sisters makes meaningful, monitored matches between adult volunteers (“Bigs”) and children (“Littles”), ages 5 through 14, in communities across the country, striving to develop positive relationships that have a direct and lasting effect.

Locally, Big Brothers Big Sisters of the Illinois Capital Region has been serving our community and our children for over forty years. Our work is supported and made possible by tremendous involvement and support through organizations such as the United Way of Central Illinois as well as giving by individuals and businesses that seek to support the advancement of the youngest members of our community. United Way is instrumental in helping us provide programs that give at-risk youth the tools they need to become successful.

Both our School-Based and Community-Based Mentoring Programs encourage students to strive for higher academic and career goals, and increase their opportunities. It’s incredible how having a mentor can change the course of a young person’s life, and it is our staff’s goal to ensure that each and every child in our surrounding area that wants or needs a mentor is matched with one.

Many people are aware of our Community-Based Mentoring Program which has been thriving for years, but our School-Based Mentoring Program is growing tremendously as well and we are so thankful to our community partners that are giving of their time and resources to help this program excel. School personnel in the various school districts that we serve identify students struggling academically, emotionally or socially, who they feel could benefit from a supportive relationship with an adult mentor. Littles who participate are given quality one-on-one time, once a week, with a caring adult who is willing to talk, listen, and engage the student in a variety of activities and conversations in the supervised setting of a school. The Bigs guide the Littles in making good choices, and in developing goals for their futures.

Big Brothers Big Sisters holds itself accountable for children in our programs to achieve measurable outcomes, such as educational success, avoidance of risky behaviors, development of higher aspirations, greater confidence and better relationships. Partnering with parents/guardians, schools, corporations and others in the community, Big Brothers Big Sisters carefully pairs children with screened volunteer mentors and monitors and supports these one-to-one mentoring matches throughout their course.

Research shows that mentors can play a powerful role in providing young people with the tools to make responsible choices, attend and engage in school, and reduce or avoid risky behavior like drug use. According to national statistics, the positive effects of having a Big Brother or Big Sister on an at-risk child’s life are astounding — compared to children not in the program, participants are 52 percent less likely to skip school, 46 percent less likely to start using illegal drugs and are overall more confident in their academic performance.

Each year, Big Brothers Big Sisters is able to make a difference in the lives of hundreds of children in our area. During National Mentoring Month, we would like to encourage our neighbors, friends, and partners to join us for our BBBS Open House Events hosted at our offices (928 South Spring Street) Monday January 23rd and Monday January 30th at 5:30pm to learn more about becoming a Big. For more information please visit www.bbbscapitalregion.org or call us at 753-1216.

Mia Woods is the executive director of Big Brothers Big Sisters of the Illinois Capital Region, located in Springfield, IL and serving four outlying counties. Look for United Way columns weekly in Our Towns.