By: Jaqueline Gonzalez Photo by: Rachel Benavides
Today’s youth face a variety of challenges, and the influence of a caring adult is more likely to deter risky behavior and navigate them toward reaching their fullest potential. As the nation’s largest donor and volunteer supported mentoring network, Big Brothers Big Sisters makes meaningful, monitored matches between adult volunteers, “bigs,” and children, “littles,” ages
6 -18, in communities across the country. The organization’s goal is to take care of the child’s developmental needs at an early age, while empowering the child to succeed. Sofia Pacurar, who heads event planning and fundraising, emphasizes the importance of “having someone caring and providing a reliable presence in their life,” and attributes the success of the organization to the dedication of each mentor.
Board members and volunteers work in tandem with school counselors to select children who will benefit the most from the “bigs and littles” match making. Each group is required to fill out a survey, detailing their likes and dislikes. A case manager, otherwise known as a “match maker”
then filters the surveys, after completing a background check on each big, to make the best matches.
Activities vary by many factors, including age groups, likes and dislikes, and parent/guardian approval. Since education is a major driving force, bigs are encouraged to visit their littles at school for lunch, school functions, or just to assist with school work. Other bigs prefer to spend time with their littles outside of school, while engaging in bonding time. The bond between each big and little blossoms the more time they spend together. The activities grow as well; one minute you are spending time at local parks, and before you know it, you are helping a young girl find
her dream prom dress.
Maria Karaca, a board member, is also a mentor to a young man named Brandon. Brandon lost both parents at an early age, and is currently being raised by his maternal grandmother. Maria says, “it wasn’t until I was a mentor that I knew why making time for your little was so important,” and also states that she cannot imagine her life without Brandon. “He’s a part of our family,” she says. Being a part of the Karaca family has made a great impact on Brandon’s life as well. At only 12 years of age, he already has high aspirations of becoming a lawyer to advocate for children in his situation.
Sofia Pacurar and Maria Karaca advise anyone considering taking on the role of mentor to understand the responsibility that is necessary. Mentors are only required to give four hours per month (one hour a week) to their little, but they are always welcome to spend more time, pending parent/guardian approval. Pacurar and Karaca urge anyone willing to give their time to a child in need to visit bigmentor.org to sign up to be a mentor. Every moment spent together is special and guaranteed to be a life changing experience for both bigs and littles. It’s not just a donation or time spent; it’s an investment in a child’s future.