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Big Brothers Big Sisters: It All Starts With a Little

Feb 01, 2017 08:30AM ● Published by Jason Huddle

Big Brothers Big Sisters: It All Starts With a Little

The U.S. Census Bureau estimates that, as of July 2015, persons under 18 years of age make up 22.9 percent of our nation’s population. And according to countyhealthrankings.org, 26 percent of children in Cabarrus County live in single-parent households.

Single parents often find themselves working long hours or more than one job to make ends meet. Besides giving rise to absenteeism at home, it can also affect the family’s financial stability. Cabarrus Health Alliance provides the latest available numbers: 2009-2013. While lower than the national average, as well as the state average of 24.9 percent, children living in poverty in Cabarrus County still measures 18.3 percent.

Enter mentoring. According to mentoring.org, one in three young people in the U.S. are growing up without a mentor. That can lead to truancy, dropping out of school, drug use and withdrawal from the community. Flip the negatives with mentoring and you have individuals that are more likely to attend college, participate in sports and become mentors themselves.

Big Brothers Big Sisters of America is more than 100 years old and was initiated by Ernest Coulter. As a court clerk in New York City, he saw the growing number of boys getting in trouble and coming through the legal system. He realized adult guidance could curb that.

Coinciding with Coulter’s efforts, the Ladies of Charity organization was taking girls under its wing by way of the New York Children’s Court. In 1977, Big Brothers Association and Big Sisters International merged and became Big Brothers Big Sisters of America. Today, the mentoring organization has locations in all 50 U.S. states and 12 countries internationally.

The Big Brothers Big Sisters’ mission “is to provide children facing adversity with strong and enduring, professionally supported one-to-one relationships that change their lives for the better, forever.”

Connie Rheinecker

Connie Rheinecker is Cabarrus County area director for Big Brothers Big Sisters. With regard to how the Cabarrus County branch came to be, she says, “The Big Brothers Big Sisters of Greater Charlotte (BBBSGC) Board had a vision to expand their mentoring program, and Cabarrus County was determined to be the best community to bring that growth. So, in 2002, the BBBSGC Board approached Cabarrus County – specifically John Robbins – about starting a BBBS operation in Cabarrus County.”  

Robbins accepted and quickly approached key community members, recruiting Diane Honeycutt, Dick Snyder, Pastor Anthony, Valerie Melton and Dakeita Vanderburg-Johnson. These individuals became the Cabarrus BBBS Steering Committee; Carol Lee was named CEO. Together, they raised funds to hire a small staff and their doors opened in 2004.

 Today, the Steering Committee is called the Cabarrus Leadership Council (CLC). The council took over its own fundraising and recruitment after the BBBSGC CEO merged Cabarrus County’s funds,

fundraising and other roles into the BBBSGC organization in 2008. That merge negatively impacted this county’s program, so local action was taken.

“The CLC advocated for a Cabarrus County area director position,” Rheinecker explains. “Responsible for implementing and managing the strategic direction for Cabarrus County, including the cultivation of new donors, volunteers and community partnerships, as well as stewardship of existing relationships, this position has played a key role in increasing Cabarrus County’s awareness of the program, as well as increasing revenue and the number of children served.”

So, what does it mean to be a “Big,” the abbreviated term for big brother and big sister? It’s basically being there for your “Little,” spending quality time together, maybe doing homework, going to a movie or simply talking.   

 The first step in becoming a Big is to apply. This includes a written application that requires three references, a copy of your driver’s license and printed proof of car insurance liability coverage. It also includes a background check.

The next step is a Pre-match Orientation. You’ll be educated about the services offered by Big Brothers Big Sisters and trained on child safety and healthy youth/mentor relationships.

Once that’s completed, a match meeting is set up for you and your BBBS enrollment and match support specialist. This interview is about you, your interests, background and personality. The enrollment and match specialists take that information, make a decision as to your acceptance in the program and use your information to determine a good match for you. 

Once you’re paired with a Little, your match support specialist will be there for first introductions and to make suggestions on first activities that would suit you both. The specialist will be there as you get to know and make plans with your Little, answering any questions or concerns you may have. The application and enrollment process typically takes four to eight weeks to complete.

“Children/Littles are most frequently referred to our agency by a parent or guardian,” Rheinecker says. “Ninety-nine percent of the children we serve come from single-parent households, and the parent identifies that their child would benefit from a mentoring relationship. We also receive a significant number of referrals from the school systems’ staff. Teachers, social workers and counselors recognize the need through their daily interactions with the child and then recommend BBBS as a resource to the parent or guardian.”

As of January 1, 2017, Cabarrus County BBBS has served 150 children this fiscal year. Rheinecker says that number has surpassed the number of children served in all of fiscal year 2015/’16.

“It demonstrates not only the need for mentors, but the growing support Cabarrus County residents are showing the Big Brothers Big Sisters program through both volunteerism and financial giving,” she says. “We are only halfway through our fiscal year, so I anticipate that we will exceed our goal of 10 percent growth and 158 children served by year-end.”

As to who is needed most at this point, Rheinecker says, “We definitely need more men in our community to volunteer as Big Brothers for the young boys in our program. Often our Little Brothers come from single-mother homes where there is no adult male figure to guide them and teach ‘guy stuff’ as they grow up to become young men.

“Last year, our Littles were 55 percent African-American; 27 percent Caucasian; 12 percent multi-ethnic; 5 percent Hispanic/Latino; and 1 percent other. Although our matches are not required to be the same race, there are parents who request to have a Big the same race as their child if at all possible. Overall, we have a shortage of volunteers so I would encourage and welcome men and women alike to consider becoming a ‘Big’ mentor.”

The national average length of a BBBS mentoring match is 20 months. “Cabarrus County’s mentoring matches have an average length of about three years,” Rheinecker says. “Strong mentoring relationships can have a profound impact on a young person’s life. Many of our matches last much longer than three years, with some continuing their relationship outside of the BBBS program once a child graduates high school.

“Our primary goal is to successfully and safely create and support growing numbers of life-changing mentoring relationships in Cabarrus County,” she adds. “We also include strategic enhancements of our program activities so that they are clearly focused around literacy, reduction in truancy and workforce development. Finally, we aim to raise the necessary funds to support continued growth of our programming, so that we can reach and impact more children in our community.”

Do you have some extra time to devote to a child here in Cabarrus County? Would you like to donate toward the programs offered at Big Brothers Big Sisters? The Cabarrus County office is located at 200 Branchview Drive N.E. in Concord, or call 704-305-3411 for more information.

Article by: Kim Cassell

Photos Courtesy: Big Brothers/Big Sisters of Greater Charlotte

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