At Big Brothers Big Sisters of the Bay Area, we are in the business of building relationships — critical, often life-saving relationships. What usually goes unrecognized is that building relationships takes a lot of time and a lot of effort for adults, let alone children. When we match a child with an adult volunteer, we also provide a Match Support Specialist to help them navigate the frequently tough waters of building their relationship. In Big Brothers Big Sisters lingo, Match Support Specialist means a case worker, who stays in contact with the volunteer and the family regularly.
One of our Match Support Specialists recently reflected on her tenure and what it is like on the front-line of Big Brothers Big Sisters. Arden has been instrumental in keeping about 200 of our Big/Little matches going over the last 2 years, and here is her view from the inside.
The year 2016 is upon us, and for many, the new year is a time to implement change. Some clean out their closets, some kick off running programs. For Arden, a Match Support Specialist with Big Brothers Big Sisters of the Bay Area, her moment of change was shifting from the corporate world to nonprofit life. “I still get shocked responses when people hear I left,” she tells us. “The truth is, supporting at-risk youth and their families is very rewarding. I love using my relationship-building skills to help people.”
BBBSBA serves almost 1,000 kids annually across five counties. For Arden, that means a whopping caseload of 75-90 matches. “You can bet I’m checking in with either a Big, Little, or parent/guardian. I’m answering emails and on the phone until I leave!” she laughs.
These check-ins are not always easy conversations. “Many of our Littles come from single-parent households struggling to make ends meet, some in and out of the foster-care system,” Arden tells us. “I’ve seen Littles in very troubling circumstances that break my heart.”
What helps these Littles? According to Arden, it is communication and consistency. “Many of the youth we serve have a history with inconsistent adults.” Having a Big Brother or Sister just show up consistently for their Little can make an incredible impact on them.
Sometimes, seeing the impact you can make takes time. “Success looks different in every match,” Arden says. The change in a Little can mean anything from tangible things like improved grades to the intangible boosts of self-confidence and a sense of self-worth, feelings that many of these kids have never experienced.
Those small moments, those intangible feelings that drew Arden to helping children in the Big Brothers Big Sisters program, are what puts smiles on the faces of BBBSBA volunteers. “Lessons learned and healthy habits from their Bigs become traits that Littles will carry with them for the rest of their lives,” she says. “The experiences and memories that these matches make will last forever!”
A great example of one of these matches is Trinidad and Matt. It’s been 13 years since Matt was matched with a shy 6-year-old named Trinidad, who is now grown and headed off to college at the University of San Francisco. Trinidad has never had it easy, and as he was leaving high school and heading off toward his future, Matt reflected that there will be more hurdles to overcome. “I have a greater appreciation for that whole ‘it takes a village’ thing,” Matt admits. Between teachers, friends’ parents, and his Big Brother watching out for him, Trinidad can look forward to college knowing he’ll have his village behind him every step of the way.
Dawn Kruger is chief executive officer of Big Brothers Big Sisters of the Bay Area.