Changing Lives for the Better, Forever

by Jeff Parmenter
Heart of Illinois Big Brothers Big Sisters

Big Brothers Big Sisters offers positive role models for children facing adversity.

Big Brothers Big Sisters of America is the oldest and largest mentoring organization in the country. For more than 100 years, BBBSA has been a leader in mentoring, growing to 345 agencies and each year serving more than 250,000 children who need a positive role model in their lives, largely due to the death of a parent, divorce, abandonment or incarceration.

Mentoring: One on One
Locally, Heart of Illinois Big Brothers Big Sisters was founded in 1980 by a group of citizens who wanted to provide our children with an opportunity to experience success. Our mission is to provide children facing adversity with strong and enduring, professionally supported, one-on-one relationships that change their lives for the better, forever. Our program encourages values like hard work and honesty. An independent study conducted by Public Private Ventures found that young teenagers who meet regularly with their Big Brothers or Big Sisters are less likely to start using illegal drugs or start drinking, to skip a day of school or skip a class, or to resort to violence as a way of solving problems.

Big Brothers Big Sisters provides mentoring services to its clients in two ways. The first is community-based mentoring, in which the mentor and child meet outside of school hours, usually in the evenings or on weekends. The second is school-based mentoring, where mentors visit with their child once weekly during the school day. Both options require the same screening, training and ongoing support for both the mentor and the child’s family.

Children are referred to the program for a variety of reasons. They’re usually from low-income or single-parent homes. They’re often dealing with low self-esteem and academic or behavioral issues. Many have been exposed to violence and crime. These children tend to change homes and schools at a high rate. They are at risk of falling through the cracks of our society. Some of our moms are working several jobs, attending classes and trying hard to make ends meet, but despite their best efforts, they just can’t do it all. This is where BBBS can make a big difference.

A National Audience
This year, the difference that Heart of Illinois Big Brothers Big Sisters makes for hundreds of children was told to a national audience when Peorian Pat Ferrell was named the National Big Brother of the Year. Pat serves as our board president, and he is a Big Brother to 15-year-old Jamir.

Pat and Jamir were initially matched through our school-based program. Our agency partners with RLI to provide “Lunch Buddies” to District 150 students, and Pat and Jamir connected through their shared love of sports. As their friendship grew, Jamir’s grades began improving as well. Eventually, Pat and Jamir became a community-based match. They see each other weekly, and Pat has become the trusted adult role model Jamir needs.

“Pat has helped me really focus on my school work by making incentives or goals to meet,” explains Jamir. “As I started meeting those goals, I noticed that everything he was preaching started to make sense and it was all setting in.”

“If you asked Jamir what is his favorite activity that we do together, it has nothing to do with going to movies, going bowling, or anything like that,” Pat says. “It’s just coming over to our house and hanging out with us. He craves normalcy.”

Initially, Pat was named the Illinois Big Brother of the Year, and several months later, we learned that BBBSA had named him the National Big Brother of the Year. In June, Pat, Jamir and their families received the award at the Big Brothers Big Sisters National Conference in Denver, Colorado. During the conference, Pat and Jamir became celebrities, congratulated by news anchors, professional athletes and their fellow “Bigs” and “Littles.” It’s something they’ll never forget, and something our agency is extremely proud of.

Pat and Jamir’s success is a shining example of the work of this agency, which served more than 330 children in 2012. That’s up 24 percent from the previous year—and the need continues to grow. We recently moved into a new facility at 3618 North Sterling Avenue in Peoria. The new space gives us more room to meet with our board members, volunteers, the children we serve, and their families. We’re proud of our growth and our new offices.

In order to serve hundreds of more children in our community by 2014, we must be able to invest in our infrastructure and provide staff with the resources they need. If we can continue this momentum, think of the positive impact we can make in the lives of our children, their families and the volunteers who are matched with them. iBi

To learn how you or your company can help break the cycle of poverty and violence in our community, visit hoibbbs.org.

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