Big Brothers Big Sisters of Washtenaw County (BBBS)
is celebrating 30 years of service
in the local community, and is asking residents for their continued support as they move forward.
BBBS' mission is to create and support one-to-one youth mentoring relationships. Since 1991, BBBS has paired and supported 7,600 youth (known as "Littles") and adult mentors ("Bigs") across Washtenaw County. Today, Executive Director Jennifer Spitler wants people to know there are 125 children on the waitlist to become Littles.
"They like to do fun things like go to the park [or] go to U of M ball games, which we get free tickets for sometimes. They like to paint their nails. They like to sing silly songs," Spitler says. "They like to do all the fun things that you liked to do when you were a kid. They just need somebody to spend time, listen, and walk the path with them."
Spitler says the pairings turn into relationships that positively affect social, emotional, academic, and healthy risk behaviors. She says those relationships have sustained the organization throughout the years. Spending time with a Big gives a Little the opportunity to be seen and heard.
"It's just amazing to see these kids grow in front of our eyes. Some of the matches have lasted up to 12 years," she says. "We see time and time again that these kids gain the confidence to reach higher and strive for more."
The last 30 years have not been without challenges. BBBS relies on volunteers and it's been a bit harder to get folks through the doors in more recent years. Spitler says that may be because community members are getting increasingly engaged with short-term opportunities, while BBBS requires a full year's commitment – but only two times a month.
"When we tell a child that someone will be in their life for a year, we want to make sure it happens," she says. "There are drop-in volunteer models that are great. It's just not us, so we kind of take a hit in terms of being able to serve more kids."
Currently, the organization is holding a celebratory #BIG30 fundraising campaign. The campaign, which also aims to raise awareness and attract new volunteers, even garnered social media kudos from former University of Michigan wide receiver Desmond Howard. (This year is also the 30th anniversary of Howard winning the Heisman Trophy in 1991.)
Spitler invites the community to get involved in the #BIG30 celebration by learning more about BBBS' work, becoming a Big, or making a donation.
"If you reflect on your life, most people had folks who were their champions, cheerleaders, and mentors. And plenty of us had folks outside of our families that provided that support in addition to our family," she says. "Sometimes you need to hear something from someone else outside of your family to really believe in yourself."
Jaishree Drepaul-Bruder is a freelance writer and editor currently based in Ann Arbor. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Photo courtesy of BBBS.