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Big Brothers Big Sisters: Inspiring the youth of America

Photo by Madalyn Mirallegro

Being a mentor to someone who is still growing up can be challenging, but members of Big Brothers Big Sisters of America have been making it look easy for over 100 years.

Big Brothers Big Sisters is a mentorship organization that was first established in 1904 and  operates in schools throughout America. On Nov. 17, the Peoria County branch traveled to Bradley to recruit students to become “Bigs” for local elementary and middle schools. 

The mission of the organization is “to create one-to-one mentoring relationships that ignite the power and promise of youth.” A majority of the children that become “Littles” are often facing some sort of adversity.

“When I say adversity, it could be something just as growing up in a single parent household,” Big Brothers Big Sisters member and Bradley alumna, Alex Fosburgh, said. “But we also have children who struggle with mental health disorders, children that are struggling with some behavioral problems in school and the natural inequity that comes with living in Peoria.”

The process involves a prospective Big going through a series of background checks, filling out an application, providing personal references, participating in an in-person interview and completing a series of online training programs. 

Matching works by pairing a Big and a Little with similar interests to help create a stable match between the two. 

“I matched a big brother and a little brother who are both interested in coding,” Fosburgh said, “It’s just been a perfect match from there.” 

The Peoria County Big Brother Big Sister organization has two mentorships, one that is site-based and the other being community-based. 

In the latter option, Bigs are in charge of meeting with their Little a minimum of four hours a month for an entire year. The Big is in charge of going to their Little’s house and picking them up to hang out with them.

The time spent together can be as simple as reading books or giving their Little some advice. Other more extravagant ideas are going to a museum or taking a hike.

However, site-based matching is the only option available for Bradley students.

Site-based matches meet at their Little’s elementary or middle school for lunch once a week for a year, having conversations and forming meaningful connections with them. While these matches take place at school, their conversations do not have to be limited to school-related subjects. Sometimes, they even play on the playground together.

“I just remember when I was 12 and 13, I was starting to get really angry with the world and I think that’s very common with middle school age,” Fosburgh said. “I can be like ‘I was there and yeah middle school and high school were some of the worst years of my life, but trust me you are going to get through it.’”

A survey is also required once a month to be completed by the Big, parent, teacher or social worker and the child. 

“We have found through measuring that the children have increased self confidence, they improve relationships between peers and families, are likely to do better in school [and] have higher career aspirations,” Fosburgh said.

The goal of the Big Brothers Big Sisters program is “that all youth achieve their full potential.”

“In order to make sure that a child lives up to their potential, they need helping hands and adults to provide them a place where they can follow the right track and make better decisions,” Fosburgh said.

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