There are currently more than 300 children in the Charleston area on a waiting list for mentor relationships through Big Brothers Big Sisters of the Lowcountry (BBBSL). Everyday, the nonprofit receives calls from guardians and parents who want the young people in their lives to realize their full promise and potential.
Merridith Crowe, president and chief executive officer for BBBSL says they work with eager guardians to find reliable role models in the community for their sons and daughters.
“We feel like these parents are doing their very best to take a step above and beyond. Life circumstances may be messy. They may not have all the resources they want to have to be able to offer everything to their son, daughter or child they’re caring for. So, they reach out to us because they’re hopeful,” Crowe said.
Roughly 73% of the children on the waiting list are boys in need of an adult male mentor. Crowe explained that is because they have a lot of single mothers call to request for a mentor. They often have grandparents raising children call and ask for a mentor in hopes to have someone a little younger involved in the child’s live.
According to their website, Big Brothers Big Sisters is the nation’s largest donor and volunteer-supported mentoring network, making meaningful, monitored matches between adult volunteers “Bigs” and children “Littles,” ages 6 (or first grade) through young adulthood in communities across the country.
BBBSL became an independent affiliate on April 1. Formerly, BBBSL existed as a program under the care of the Carolina Youth Development Center from 1981-2019. The nonprofit serves youth facing adversity through professionally supported one-on-one mentoring relationships.
In addition to getting calls from guardians interested in the program, schools and other nonprofits also recommend children for the program. Because of this, BBBSL is constantly recruiting mentors from large companies, fraternities and churches in the Lowcountry.
Crowe said that the demographic of their mentors is generally individuals ages 24-34, empty nesters or soon-to-be empty nesters (so they either have older teens or time to spend with a younger child) or they’re retirees. Mentors come from all walks of life and she shared that people don’t have to be in a fancy job to be great mentors.
“We always say we’re looking for ordinary people with ordinary time doing ordinary things with young people. It’s that ordinary that results in the extraordinary,” Crowe said.”These kids are just hungry for some one-on-one attention.”
Often, BBBSL staff hears the Littles refer to simple activities such as going to the grocery store, learning how to grill out or building birdhouses being some of their favorite activities with their Bigs.
The nonprofit offers free and reduced cost activities each month as an opportunity for the mentors to gather and meet like-minded community peers. Being a mentor also gives adults an opportunity to do things they may not do on their own or revisit an old pastime they miss from when they were younger. Crowe said that she can’t count the number of boys on the waiting list that want to go fishing, crabbing or just be outside.
BBBSL asks for a one-year minimum commitment from mentors. Mentors are obligated to get together with their little brother or sister two times a month for roughly two to four hours. This time can be spent after school or on the weekend, as long as it’s consitent. Although they require a one year commitment, Crowe shares that most relationships last much longer.
“Our mentors consistently report that while they’re pretty sure they’re having a positive impact on the child they’re mentoring, they are 100% positive that by mentoring a kid whose life might be different than their own, they gain a tremendous perspective about the world and they constantly say that their lives are transformed for the better,” she said.
Crowe explained that generally, the children in their programs are geographically isolated to about a two mile radius. Many have never taken a hike in a forest, been to the beach or have had a recreational opportunity that they might experience if they are matched with a Big Brother or Sister.
While only 10% of the children in BBBSL are in foster care, Crowe said that one Big who’s Little has bounced around in foster care for some time just feels normal when they are together. She observes many of their children are looking for friendship and the program delivers to their needs.
Studies overwhelmingly show that Little Brothers and Little Sisters are greatly benefited by their matches in critical areas:
- Education — 77% of Littles say they are doing better in school because of their Bigs.
- Juvenile justice — 76% of Littles say they learned right from wrong from their Bigs.
- Self-confidence — 90% of Littles say their Bigs made them feel better about themselves.
“It’s just a simple accountability of mentors showing up consistently. These kids gain a sense of belonging, they do better in school, their relationships with their parent or guardian improve, they do better with their peers in school, they’re avoiding risky behaviors that might put them in contact with the juvenile justice system, and beyond that, they start dreaming about their future differently. Their sense of what the future can hold expands drastically,” Crowe said.
BBBSL has monthly conversations with mentors to answer questions and coach them to provide them with support. And getting involved as a mentor is very simple. Once interested individuals reach out to BBBSL, they schedule a brief orientation phone call to answer questions. If they decide to move forward, BBSL schedules an in person interview and get the ball rolling.
“I know a lot of people moved into Charleston area came here because of the potential the Charleston region holds for them professionally and socially. This is a way to care about the real true potential and the future of the Charleston region. If individuals want to make a difference that is personal and they want to help a child to have great potential, promise, realize their full power and get to participate in the wealth that our region has to offer; being a mentor is one of the most powerful things that they could ever do,” Crowe said. “It’s a great way for them to leave a mark on our region.”
For more information about BBBSL, including details for adults interested in becoming a “Big,” visit bbbslowcountry.org or call the organization at 843-401-3556.
As the nonprofit builds its capacity to assist more youth in the area, BBSL invites the public to celebrate its official relaunch this Saturday, Dec. 7 from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. at Holy City Brewing in North Charleston. The “BIG Lowcountry Boil” will feature a traditional shrimp boil, exclusive draft beer from the brewery, a signature cocktail from Firefly Distillery, a silent auction, activities, and live music by Lavish Sounds. Tickets are limited and include special pricing for adults, teens, and children. All proceeds will benefit BBBSL. For more information click on the events tab on bbbslowcountry.org.