Big Brothers, Big Sisters in dire need of volunteers

Big Brothers, Big Sisters of the Permian Basin in ‘desperate’ need of volunteers

How important is an adult mentor for the development of a child? Kay Crites can answer that question with countless heartwarming stories, and also data.

The executive director of Big Brothers, Big Sisters of the Permian Basin (BBBS), part of the national mentoring organization that is unique in that it matches one child with one adult, said her program tracks various progression markers for participating children, such as their attitude toward school and behavior in school.

Data collected show a 92 percent increase in self confidence in participants of the program, “which is absolutely critical when it comes to dealing with issues such as peer pressure,” Crites said.

The problem, of course, is finding enough volunteers to mentor a growing wait list of local youth, particularly in the wake of the pandemic that prompted people to isolate themselves for their safety. BBBS has seen its wait list of children without a mentor balloon to 100, Crites said.

“We have to get these volunteers to re-engage, it’s just critical,” Crites said.

BBBS, which opened in Midland in 1975 and in Odessa in 2018, serves children from ages 6 up through young adults ages 21 through college graduation. Volunteer mentors can be as young as 15-years-old and some are in their 80s.  Many volunteers enter the program thinking they’re going to save a child, “but a lot of volunteers say I get more out of this than they do,” Crites said.

“We match based on common interest and personality types,” she said. “We take a lot of care in trying to find the best child for the best volunteer, and then every month for the first year we are in touch with the parent, the child and the volunteer, to make sure there are no issues, that everything is running safely and smoothly.”

Both volunteers and parents of the children are asked to commit to the program for one year, which studies show is the minimum time period needed to make an impact. The screening process includes background checks, references, online training and an interview aimed at getting to know volunteers so they can make the best possible match.

Volunteer commitments can vary. High school students serve as mentors to children once weekly in aftercare programs such as the Boys & Girls Club of the Permian Basin.

“They can go to the elementary school and eat with their little brother and little sisters during the school day at the campus,” said Crites, adding, “As far as I know, we are the only agency in Texas where schools will pull [students] out of PE once a week to let them meet with their big brother or sister.”

In the community-based program, volunteers are asked to commit at least 6 to 8 hours per month. They arrange to pick up their little brother or sister and do something in the community.

“Many of our matches continue much longer than a year,” said Crites. “There have been some longtime friendships. Many [volunteers] are still in touch with their little ones years after they left the program.”

A couple of years ago, a big sister and little sister who had lost contact reconnected through social media, according to Crites.

“They had a reunion here in Midland,” she said.

Amid a burgeoning need for mentors, community members are encouraged to learn more about BBBS and consider volunteering.

“Please don’t count on the next person to pick up the banner, because the next person is counting on the next person,” Crites said. “Volunteers are critical for almost every nonprofit. Our whole program is built on them.”

To learn how to volunteer and for more information, visit the BBBS website here.