Where's My Big Brother?

Big Brothers Big Sisters lacks male mentors

Big Brothers Big Sisters thrives on participation from the community as a donor-supported mentoring organization, but as national volunteer numbers are on the rise, North Texas branches of the organization suffer the reality of fewer male mentors.

The decline in male volunteerism has left the organization exploring other options.

Jan Smith is the organization’s Big Sister of the Year and celebrates five years as a mentor. Jan’s match is non-traditional – she has a little brother, Justin, a young boy whose mother was incarcerated.

"I have somewhat of an unusual match in that usually men are paired with boys and women are paired with girls, but because Justin’s mom is in prison, his dad requested a woman," Jan said about her pairing with Justin. "I try to do things that I think his mom would do with him. We do little goody bags at Valentine’s Day, or at the end of the year, I always take in something for the entire class."

Jan volunteers through the Amachi arm of Big Brothers Big Sisters. The Amachi Texas program is strictly for children who have parents in prison. The program launched in March 2006 after Governor Rick Perry announced it as a statewide initiative.

Jan first became involved with Big Brothers Big Sisters after a fellow member of her church spoke about the nonprofit agency and disclosed a startling statistic. According to a 2000 Senate report, without one-on-one intervention, children of prisoners have a 70% greater likelihood of being incarcerated themselves. In Texas, there are 400,000 children who have at least one parent in state or federal prison – 70,000 are in the North Texas region alone.

Kelly Imig, Regional Executive Director of Big Brothers Big Sisters in Tarrant County, not only works for the nonprofit, but has also been a big sister for 11 years. She has seen first-hand the waiting list grow longer for boys.

"A couple of years ago we had to start matching adult woman with little brothers because we have so many little brothers on our waiting list and not enough men mentors," Kelly Imig said. This option alleviates boys from being on the waiting list for years, however, once they reach age 11, they get matched with a man.

Nationally, male volunteerism increased one percent in 2009 compared to previous figures, but is still less than female volunteerism. Only 27 percent of the country actually volunteer, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

The need for more volunteers is clear not only in facts and figures nationally, but locally as well. The North Texas Big Brothers Big Sisters waiting list of children numbers over 3,000. The organization struggles with the trying task of reducing the number of children on that waiting list all while increasing donor funds and volunteers.

"It costs about $1,000 to take a kid off the waiting list and then match them with a volunteer and then support that match for a year. We have to have volunteers, but we also have to have the funds to support them. So, if we’ve got a lot of volunteers and not that much funding we can’t make it happen, if we’ve got all this funding and not enough volunteers than its an imbalance," Imig explains.

The organization has struggled during the economic downturn, but is slowly climbing upward reaching pre-recession figures. Now, the organization stresses the need for strengthening male involvement.

Jan Smith is just one non-traditional big sister stepping in for the lack of male mentors, "I can’t help every child, but I can try to have an influence on this one child."

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