Many of us have fond memories of our younger siblings biting us on the leg, stealing our favorite shirt or telling lies to implicate us in some household crime. (At least, I do.) But the boys of Albuquerque are missing out, due to a dearth of Big Brothers. Kerrie Copelin, marketing and partnerships director for Big Brothers Big Sisters of Central New Mexico, talked with the Alibi about the program’s two-year waiting list, its need for volunteers and her own Little Brother. Big Brothers Big Sisters serves thousands of kids in New Mexico and, statistics show, helps them keep their little noses clean of trouble.
What communities does Big Brothers Big Sisters (BBBS) serve?
We serve a six-county area: Sandoval, Bernalillo, Cibola, Torrance, Valencia and Socorro counties. We specifically serve Albuquerque and Rio Rancho. We’re expanding into Los Lunas and Belen.
Who are the kids who use BBBS?
They vary. About 50 percent are from single parent families and the rest are from dual parent families, but their families feel they need a little extra support. We also have the MCIP program, which is Mentoring the Children of Incarcerated Parents, so we have a small percentage of children who are in that program. We also have a few whose parents call looking for something to help steer their children clear of dangerous juvenile activities and really need help. It’s a way for them to see there’s something else out there.
Are most of the kids in the program already veering from the straight-and-narrow?
I’d say it’s about 50-50. Some of them are fairly young. They come in at six, seven, eight years old, so they haven’t necessarily gone astray, but they do need another influence in their lives, especially since their parent feels having another influence would help them stay in school and keep up their confidence.
What ages does BBBS serve?
We serve kids from ages six to 18. Kids can be in the program until the age of 18, but we don’t generally match a child after the age of 14, mostly because, especially for boys, we have a two-year waiting list. We have 200 kids on a two-year waiting list. So we can’t match after the age of 14 because they tend to age out.
I assume that no Big Sister is ever matched with a Little Brother and vice versa? Has that ever happened?
Big Sisters do get matched with Little Brothers, but Big Brothers are never matched with Little Sisters.
That sounds like a perverse rhyme. You mentioned that there’s a dearth of Big Brothers. Is this a major problem facing BBBS?
Yes, it is. We’re in dire need of Big Brothers to mentor young boys. A lot of these boys don’t want a Big Sister because they live with their mother and aunts, maybe their grandmothers taking care of them, and they need that male influence.
Why do you think this problem exists?
It seems to me that women tend to be more philanthropic in volunteering. I don’t know that that’s it, but I know women are more drawn to a caring, nurturing relationship than males. I think a common misconception is that men are afraid they’re going to be matched with a kid and they’re not going to know how to handle it. That’s one of the unique things about our program: We have support specialists that counsel the matches, both Big and Little, to make sure everything’s going OK.
How do you match Big and Little?
Our process is done by an enrollment and match specialist. The children come in for an interview and are asked about the basis of their interests, how they’re doing in school and what they’d be interested in doing in the community. The volunteers who interview for a Big Brother or Sister position go through the same type of questioning. Our support specialist matches them based on interests. The parent is also involved in the child interview, so they have an input.
How does BBBS find volunteers?
Currently, we have a partnership department that tries to form relationships with businesses to recruit volunteers through corporations. Word of mouth is the other way, and we’re looking into doing a media campaign.
What are the qualifications of a Big Brother or Sister? How do you check them out?
All Big Brothers and Sisters are subjected to a thorough background check. Once the background check is done, if there are any inconsistencies, we check those things out to see if there’s any reason why they couldn’t be a Big Brother or Sister. Also, in their initial interview process, they’re given the time requirements we request, and if it seems their schedule won’t really work with it, we won’t approve them as a volunteer. The time constraints aren’t that great. It’s four hours a month, and you see the Little Sister or Brother twice a month.
Do volunteers receive any training?
We do have a volunteer training that is not required, but is highly recommended. It prepares volunteers to deal with certain issues that might come up.
What activities can the Bigs do with their Littles?
They can do anything, really. We like to tell people that you’re not changing your life for someone else, you’re just incorporating this person, this child, into your life. You can do anything from hiking, going to the movies or even hanging out at your house and gardening or baking or playing sports. They’re not limited in activities, so they can participate as long as everybody’s safe.
What commitment does BBBS ask of its volunteers?
We ask for a year-long commitment. We understand if you have to move or something else comes up, but it’s when the relationship builds over time that you see the most improvement in the children.
What are the long-term implications of BBBS in a child’s life?
Children who participate in the program are 46 percent less likely to do drugs and 37 percent less likely to be violent.
What’s the secret to the program’s success?
It’s really the one-to-one relationship trust that gets built between the Big and Little. The kids truly admire these adults.
Have you ever been a Big Sister?
I’m currently a Big Sister.
Can you tell us a heart-warming story about your kid Sister?
I actually have a Little Brother. He’s 8, and we’ve only been matched for two-and-a-half months now. Recently, we were in the car, driving. I was taking him home. We started talking and I asked if he wanted to go to college. He said, “No, it’s too hard.” I said, “Well, OK, what do you want to do, because you need to start thinking about that now so you can direct your education.” He said, “I can’t tell you, it’s too embarrassing.” I said, “It’s OK to tell me. It’s going to be really hard to accomplish what you want if you can’t even tell anyone.” He said, “I want to be a Pokemon champion.”
How can I get more information if I’m interested in volunteering?
You can call our office at (505) 837-9223 or inquire online at www.bbbs-cnm.org.