One great role model, one mentor that connects, can help guide an at–risk youth down a positive path. For 70 years, Big Brothers Big Sisters has recognized this and worked to match young people with mentors, changing lives in the process. BBBS of Greater Flint has focused on working with especially high–risk children – those with incarcerated parents, those who have experience with the juvenile justice system, those who lack a stable home.
Specially screened and trained mentors spend four to six hours a month for at least 18 months with their mentees doing recreational, educational and social activities. To help prepare at–risk and high–risk young people for college and career paths, BBBS engaged its AmeriCorps member to incorporate Mentor Michigan's College Positive Mentoring Toolkit, which provides mentors information, ideas, and ready–to–use activity starters to help encourage their mentees to explore and pursue higher education into its curriculum.
The BBBS mentoring system has been shown to be incredibly effective. A recent study of adult alumni of the program proves as much: They uniformly credit BBBS with turning their lives around. Ninety percent of respondents said their mentors brought stability to their lives, and 90 percent also said they believed they achieved a higher level of education than they otherwise would have. Median annual income for alumni of the program is $75,000. And the vast majority of alumni say they volunteer for a civic or religious-based organization.
As the recipients of a grant in the 2010 Art Van Charity Challenge, BBBS Flint was able to serve 166 children with incarcerated parents to one–on–one mentors. Being involved with Art Van has also helped raise awareness of BBBS and their mission – more people know how effective the program can be, and more people are willing to donate or get involved. "We have seen increased community engagement both through volunteerism and financial giving, and we recognize those efforts at an annual Art Van hosted event," says Reta Stanley, President and CEO of BBBS Flint. "The lives of our children and families are enriched through Art Van's ongoing commitment."
"Art Van is a great role model to other area businesses," continues Stanley. "They delight in the opportunity to invest in the communities where they do business. The Art Van family supports Big Brothers Big Sisters in a multitude of ways, growing our ability to service youth facing adversity, placing them in strong and enduring one–to–one relationships that change their lives for the better, forever."
According to BBBS alumnus D'Monte Carl Johnson, who recently graduated from high school with a 3.3 GPA and is headed to college, that couldn't be more true. "My big brother Allison Hester (himself a former Little Brother) helped me make sense of my life and gave me advice on how to handle things. Allison grew up in the exact same neighborhood as me and grew up in similar situations. Having him in my life showed me that I can make something out of myself...My biggest goal, I would have to say, is to one day figure out how to give back to the community of Flint, and make a difference in people's lives just like those who have made a difference in mine." Learn more about Big Brothers & Big Sisters at bbbsflint.org.