The empowerment of mentorship

As we make our way through another beautiful Bay Area summer, my thoughts are drawn to the turmoil that has been popping up in so many parts of our country — Baltimore, Charleston, New York and Chicago — just to name a few. I have listened to the leaders of each city, followed by the journalists and pundits, discuss the plights of the citizens who have chosen to riot and protest in the face of social injustice, and I have heard the words “disenfranchised” and “disempowered” over and over again. And while the debates and discussions will most likely go on for months, what I have yet to hear are any solutions or suggestions for how to “enfranchise” and “empower” our youth.

At Big Brothers Big Sisters of the Bay Area, we offer mentorship as a path to empowerment. Mentoring is a powerful development strategy for youth’s successful path to adulthood, and since 1958, Big Brothers Big Sisters of the Bay Area has been the gold standard of year-round mentoring for youth in five Bay Area counties. BBBSBA programs serve as an ARC to success for each one of our Littles: providing Access to experiences never before afforded to them, the Resources needed for developmental growth, and the Consistency of a caring positive role model.

According to the benchmark Wilder study, for each $1 invested in an effective mentoring program, there is a social return on investment of approximately $3. Mentoring relationships provide a wealth of social benefits that strengthen schools, families and communities through the alleviation of future costs on social services, promotion of first-generation college students, strengthening of family relationships, encouragement of healthy life choices, transformation of youth into independent adults and future leaders, building connections between generations, and increasing workforce preparedness and social capital to name just a few. BBBSBA affects change and creates a long-lasting impact within the most vulnerable communities and amongst our most underserved children. Big Brothers Big Sisters of the Bay Area has proven year after year that long-term, year-round 1-to-1 supported mentoring works for at-risk children and youth.

While studies and research prove that mentorship works, our Bigs and Littles show us in so many ways, every single day. Take George and Julian, who have been matched for more than three years and enjoy all of their outings. One of the most memorable for Big Brother George was at the rock climbing gym. Julian was initially hesitant to start, overwhelmed by the big walls. He stopped his first attempt at climbing early.

George got down on Julian’s level, looked him in the eyes and talked him through his fears. He asked if Julian instead wanted to try to get to the halfway point on the rock wall. George remembers, “I told Julian I believe in him [and] he echoed back with full confidence, ‘If you believe in me, I know I can do it.’ It seemed right out of a movie and it went right to my heart.”

Julian went straight for his next attempt at the wall, but instead of stopping at the halfway point, Julian went right to the top! “I lowered him down and almost cried tears of happiness,” George says. “I was so proud.”

If George can inspire Julian to climb his first wall, we know that he will have no problems tackling the next mountain in his life. We feel every child should be inspired to climb mountains and hold the belief that they will succeed. As John Updike once said, “I was made to feel I could do things. If you get this feeling early and can hold it until you’re 15, you tend to never lose it.”

Anike Coates is vice president of development of Big Brothers Big Sisters of the Bay Area.

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