It’s been nearly 50 years since Big Brothers Big Sisters expanded to Hawaii to provide volunteer mentors to local youth facing adversity, particularly fatherless boys on Oahu.
It’s gone from independent sister agencies on four islands to a single, statewide nonprofit organization serving more than 700 participants and having 25 employees. The unification, which occurred earlier this month, enables BBBS of Hawaii to hopefully double the number of children helped through its one-to-one mentoring program, provide ongoing support for all participants, increase cost savings in operational areas and expand its reach. The nonprofit has regional offices on Hawaii Island, Kauai, Maui and Oahu, said Dennis Brown, BBBS chief executive officer and president.
Just three days ago, BBBS opened its Hilo office and made its first community-based program match, successfully pairing a volunteer adult mentor with a boy. The two were matched on shared common interests and personalities.
“I became a Big Brother because I feel that many youth have needs that are not met by their family, extended family, or the school-to-work process — particularly for kids from broken homes,” said East Hawaii resident Tom Winegar. “My parents were divorced when I was young, but I was lucky to have family and friends who went many extra miles to stay involved with me as I grew up. My family and friends have made great efforts to be supportive of me. Without their support — I would not be where I am today. I want to help others the way that people helped me.”
The community-based program consisted of “Bigs” and “Littles” meeting two to four times per month for up to four hours at a time for at least a year. They do positive activities together, such as hike, play board games, go to the beach, fish, watch movies and play sports, Brown said.
Bigs, ages 18 or older, commit to mentoring youth from single parent or foster home who are poor, have an incarcerated parent incarceration, have been in the juvenile justice system or are struggling in school. Children’s legal guardians enroll them in the program. Mentors undergo an rigorous screening process that includes interviews and criminal background checks, Brown said.
Bigs are not babysitters or surrogate parents; they’re caring, supportive role models. This organization is about providing supportive relationships for children, ages 6 to 16, and assist them in realizing their potential. Such relationships are intended to help youth achieve educational success, avoid risky behaviors and have higher aspirations for their futures. Ultimately, the organization is trying to make connections that help children make better choices, Brown said.
Brown said Hawaii Island once had an independent sister agency more than a decade ago, but its operations discontinued for reasons unknown to him. For years, prior to the unification, the Oahu and Maui agencies received requests from Big Island teachers, parents and the community to provide services here, he said.
BBBS has been on Hawaii Island since April, when its sole employee — a part-time case manager — was hired and its first school-based program with eight Keaau High students mentoring Keaau Elementary students started, Brown said. With this “service learning” program, all the contact between Bigs and Littles occur within a school, with programing and one-on-one activities happening after school.
BBBS is looking to expand its services by growing its programs islandwide. A second school-based site will open in September for 12 to 15 Hilo High sophomores and juniors wanting to serve as mentors to Hilo Union Elementary students.
The organization also plans to have at least one school-based site in Kona or Waimea, as well as matches in West Hawaii, by fall 2013. However first, it needs financial support and enough Bigs to match with the Littles waiting. The average cost per each match is about $2,500 annually, which pays for enrolling, screening, matching, training and monitoring participants.
Broader fundraising campaigns and recruiting for the programs is planned, aimed at generating at least 200 mentoring matches on the Big Island, as well as adding staff, in the next two years, Brown said.
“We can’t fulfill our mission and make a difference without volunteer, community and financial support,” he added.
To get involved or for more information, call 375-1781 or visit bbbshawaii.org.