News : BBBS Pursues Vision That All Children Achieve Success in Life

Sep 19, 2013

Published in the Portsmouth Patch and Exeter Patch on September 16, 2013.

PORTSMOUTH — With the school year now in full swing, an organization whose goal is to improve the lives of children now needs adult volunteers for its school- and community-based mentoring programs.
Big Brothers Big Sisters of the Greater Seacoast is a 35-year-old organization affiliated with Big Brothers Big Sisters of America, the national organization. The Seacoast N.H. agency serves 39 cities and towns in Rockingham and Strafford counties. Its mission is to provide children facing adversity with strong and enduring, professionally supported 1-to-1 relationships that change their lives for the better, forever.

Adult mentors — called “Bigs” — expand the perspective of children ranging in age from 6 thru through 17 years old — called “Littles” — by encouraging them to look beyond their situation to the outside world of possibilities to see that bigger and better things are attainable. “The mentor provides hope and opportunity in their lives,” says BBBS Executive Director Stacy Kramer.

"My Big Sister treats me good and acts like I am a princess in her world," says Little Sister Daisha.

Big Brothers Big Sisters of the Greater Seacoast has been chosen as The Music Hall Explore + Learn partner of the year. On Sept. 26, BBBS is holding a Celebration of Matches and mission through artistic expression, including music, art, speech and a slide show at the Music Hall Loft location. BBBS invites the public to attend the event to learn more about the organization’s mission and about its matches — some that are new and some long-standing — will be described in detail.

Read the rest of the story in the Portsmouth Patch here, and the Exeter Patch here

“We’d love to educate more people about what we do and to the need for mentors,” says Kramer. “Most kids can benefit from having a mentor in their lives-- having a positive adult role model in their life is the single most important thing to reaching their potential and having success in life.”

In a typical year, BBBS provides mentors for more than 300 kids and serves over 400 kids each year either through a mentor, match activities, or holiday help. “We’re hoping to reach more kids this year,” says Kramer, noting that BBBS has 65 kids, a majority of them being boys, on a wait listing. “So we’re looking for referrals for Littles but also for Bigs for the kids that need one. By having a mentor the kids in our programs achieve higher aspirations, do better in school, and make better choices when it comes to relationships and risky behaviors.”

BBBS runs several mentoring programs. In the School and Site-based programs, Bigs and Littles meet once a week for one hour in schools (or at a site such as afterschool program, community business, etc.), to talk, shoot hoops, do puzzles, or review homework assignments. There are a large number of students waiting for a mentor. While serving all of Rockingham and Strafford counties, BBBS is focusing on recruiting members from Rochester, Somersworth, Dover, Raymond, Portsmouth and Seabrook.

The school-based program doesn’t necessarily go on hiatus during the summer. Big and Littles can still see each other through the fun, no/little cost activities BBBS has twice a month for matches. “We ask for meaningful contact throughout the summer, which, for example, includes attending one of our fun activities, telephone calls, text messages and emails,” says Kramer.

“Businesses are great partners,” says Kramer. “It's a wonderful opportunity for businesses to give back. Allowing their employees to participate in BBBS by being a mentor doesn't take a lot of time. It’s a way to give back to the community. It’s easy to do, and you’re changing the life of a child for the better, forever.”

BBBS’s community-based mentoring program connects Bigs and Littles to share fun activities, stories, and a little bit of themselves in libraries and community centers, among other places. The matches meet one or two times a month to have fun, and the schedule is flexible and up to the Big and Little.

“We ask for a minimum of four hours a month and there are so many things you can do,” Kramer says. “It’s about building the relationship. It's about consistency that the Big is there week to week. Because the children in our program often come into the program because of relationship inconsistencies--this is what makes a big impact on the child.”
“The Littles say, ‘It’s not what we did; it’s that you were there,’” notes Amy Raymond, community outreach and recruitment coordinator for BBBS.
Other programs provide mentoring to children of prisoners, children of military families, and children who are dealing with a family member having cancer.

BBBS recruits mentors from local businesses, and community events such as town festivals. It also talks to social, civic and faith-based groups. And it will talk to businesses about their employees becoming mentors. In fact, some businesses offer incentives to employees to become mentors.
It costs $1,200 a year per match to recruit, interview and train volunteers; interview children and parents; conduct state, national, media and social media background checks; and to pay for liability insurance, among other costs. “Volunteers are the backbone of our organization but we want people to understand that there are costs associated with our business,” says Kramer. “Especially to serve our kids and serve them well.”
Helping to raise money to pay those costs are BBBS “donor volunteers” such as Brooke Keeler. She is a BBBS donor volunteer “because I think that kids in need deserve a chance and mentors can make a huge difference in their lives,” she says.

Keeler brought BBBS and the Green Alliance together by inviting BBBS to a Green Alliance get-together held at Red Hook Brewery. The Green Alliance is a union of local sustainable businesses promoting environmentally sound business practices and a green co-op offering discounted green products and services to its members. Like Red Hook, BBBS is now a member of the Green Alliance.

As a GA member, BBBS exercises myriad ways of practicing sustainability, such as recycling all ink cartridges, bottles, cans, and paper in the office; using air conditioning and heat only when needed; using energy efficient light bulbs; turning on lights only as needed; conducting paperless banking; and sending out a monthly e-newsletter instead of a mailed version.

BBBS volunteer mentors typically say that mentoring a child is one of the most rewarding and enjoyable things they will ever do, four hours a month that can change a young person's life. “I can’t tell you how happy I am that I decided to become a Big Sister,” says Big Sister McKenna. “It’s the best and happiest decision I’ve made in a long time.”

For more information about Big Brothers Big Sisters of the Greater Seacoast, visit 
www.bbbsgs.org.

And for more information about the Green Alliance, visit www.greenalliance.biz.