This Year, Ignite Potential in a Child

Updated: Jan 6

As one year closes and another is about to begin, many of us find ourselves in a place of reflection. Often times, we scold ourselves for our failings.  So, with the New Year comes a time for making resolutions. Our efforts to do better, often come in the form of what we’ll give up (cue the fad diets and tons of excercise) as opposed to what we can add to improve our lives. 


This month, Big Brothers Big Sisters of Southwestern Connecticut offers this simple challenge: Don’t give something up, take something on!  January is National Mentoring Month and BBBS needs you to make a difference in a child’s life. 


I recently sat with Executive Director, Ellen Tracy and Marketing Manager, Angela Arpino to learn about the need for mentoring volunteers and their great impact on our community. They have seen first-hand that the benefits of being a mentor far outweigh what the child gets from the relationship. After many years of speaking to mentors about their experiences, Ellen says, “They always seem to feel that they learn as much from the child as the child learns from them.”

In 1904, a New York City court clerk named Ernest Coulter noticed the same young boys constantly in and out of his courtroom for petty crimes that could have been avoided. Ernest saw a need to help these children. As a positive adult role model, perhaps he could help them stay out of trouble. With the help of 39 volunteers from his church’s mens group, he started Big Brothers.


At the same time, The Ladies of Charity were also befriending girls going through the New York Children’s Court. This group became Catholic Big Sisters. The two organizations began to work together, spreading their efforts across the country. In 1977, with 357 agencies they merged to form Big Brothers Big Sisters of America. They now operate in all 50 states and in 12 countries around the world.


Today, the BBBS mission remains committedto its original beginnings: to provide a mentor to any child who needs or wants one. This service is available at no cost to the families or volunteers and while it primarily served single parent families, it no longer limits its help to those households. Any family who feels their child could benefit from a mentor can request one.  


Today’s kids face so many challenges. Every home situation is unique and requires its own special needs. BBBS prides itself on its rigorous screening process when matching a child with a mentor. Because of this process it can take time to create the best match. There are always more kids than mentors to match them with. Currently, over 60 “Littles,” mostly boys, are on a wait list and they could really use your help! 


Simply put, BBBS needs volunteers and they need them now. Signing up as soon as possible starts the ball rolling and shortens the time a child needs to wait for you! Mentorship is great for volunteers of all ages and life stages. New college grads act as the older sibling a child may be lacking while empty nesters lend their years of experience, patience and wisdom. 

While the wait for the right Match can be lengthy, Angela spoke of the “magic in the process.” Behind the scenes, there is much research and training required to make the Match just right. Afterwards, the Match Specialist remains in constant contact with the “Bigs” and the “Littles” to make sure the Match is working well. This is what sets BBBS apart from other mentoring programs. 


As a Big Sister, Angela experienced this magic personally. She mentored two girls, who were very different from each other but somehow were the perfect fit for Angela. With the average Big/Little relationship lasting around 3 years, Angela remained with one of her Littles for nine! These now grown women have families of their own and they still keep in touch with Angela, having built a lifelong relationship with her. 



Research has shown that kids who are mentored are less likely to start using drugs and alcohol; they gain more confidence and create a better ability to get along with others. They understand how to make better decisions and how to avoid risky behavior. 


Think about the helpful adults who had a huge impact on your life. Be it teachers, coaches, parents or grandparents — if someone mentored you, where would you be without their support and guidance today? In honor of that gift you received, are you able to pass it on to a child who hasn’t been as fortunate as you have?


Who does BBBS need?

  • Men volunteers. Over 60 kids are waiting, and most are young boys, so adult male volunteers are in high demand.

  • Little Sisters. Women volunteers wait longer to be matched because not a lot of young girls come into the program. Single parents, often mothers, are looking for someone for their son but don’t realize their daughter could benefit from a mentor as well.

  • High school mentors.  As a high school student, you can be a mentor to a Bridgeport or New Haven elementary school student and serve in a group environment. These younger mentors gain community service hours and often return as adults to mentor again.


A Mentor Looks Like:

  • Someone who will invest in the relationship!

  • Someone who can give at least a 1-year commitment of their time, meet at least twice a month for 3-4 hours at a time.

  • Someone who is patient, open to new experiences and can leave any judgment behind.

  • Someone who desires to give back to their community.

  • Someone who sees the benefit of a one-on-one relationship and the ripple effect it will have throughout both their lives.


What else can you do to help?

  • Form a fundraiser within your company or other charitable organization

  • Join our Bowling event on April 4th. Contact Angela Arpino for registration information. More details available on their web site soon!

  • Donate!  Visit www.bbbsswct.org to give your support today!

Big Brothers Big Sisters of America: over one hundred years of mentorship.

Contact the Southwestern CT office online: www.bbbsswct.org to learn more about how you can help!

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