October 27, 2021
Matches That Make an Impact
DEFINITION: Kind; warm; harmonious (See also “buddy-buddy”)
Across the city, every day, adults are helping clear a path for youth to reach more opportunities. They are sharing their mentoring skills, life lessons and ultimately, their friendship, through the Big Brothers Big Sisters program. And it looks like hanging out at the local burger joint. Taking a walk. Joining other “matches” at the park for crafting with a lot of laughs.
This relationship doesn’t look like monumental, earth-shattering activities. It’s one adult connecting to one youth, or a matched “Big Couple” connecting to a youth, and living everyday life as friends. A typical Big Brothers Big Sisters relationship involves two to four hours a week during the first year, and a schedule set by the Match after that. Yet the impact is far from casual – national research on mentoring shows that when a youth is paired with a Big through programs like Big Brothers Big Sisters, the youth is far less likely to experiment with drugs or alcohol. They are far less likely to skip school, see lower dropout rates and are 84 percent more likely to have higher self-esteem.
For the past 14 years, the local nonprofit has been helping coordinate and guide Matches, host Match events and work toward reducing barriers youth have to success. Thousands of hours of connections have been made across these relationships, yet the need remains strong with more than 40 youth waiting for a Match on a list. Some have been on the waiting list for more than two years.
Cheyenne Dorrell-Giles, Executive Director, Big Brothers Big Sisters, (and Big Sister to Skye), says the adults who participate in Big Brothers Big Sisters are defenders of the potential that area youth already have. “It doesn’t take special skills, lots of money, or a specific personality type. All it takes is someone who will stand with their Little as a friend and an ally — someone who will help clear a path to their biggest possible future,” she says.
There are several different ways a Little can connect with a Big. Matches build a friendship by spending time together three or four times a month for a couple hours, and it’s friendship that is the key. “Parenting knowledge or expert skills are not required; just being present and connecting makes a continual impact,” says Dorrell-Giles.
The organization provides the framework. Using a match support system, the first goals set are focused on relationship-building and self-esteem improvement. As a match matures, other goals are introduced that encourages the youth to consider their future. Match activities are offered across the year to inspire life and career goals. Both smaller events and bigger local events are available to Matches, like fishing days, baseball games and tickets to St. Joseph/Kansas City happenings. But it’s the weekly interactions of spending time together that seem to make the strongest impact.
This is exactly in alignment with the overall strategic plan for St. Joseph, called Imagine St. Joseph 2040. Launched in 2018, the Imagine St. Joseph 2040 plan – created by the St. Joseph Chamber of Commerce and the United Way of Greater St. Joseph and now led by the St. Joseph Community Alliance – is the compilation of ideas and thoughts from more than 1,000 residents. The plan outlines key goal areas for St. Joseph by 2040, including investing in people.
“Every child served by BBBS-SJ is empowered to reach their full potential through encouragement from a professionally-supported mentor,” says Dorrell-Giles. “When each child in St. Joseph is empowered to reach their full potential, St. Joseph becomes a community that is the best place to live, work, and play.”
For anyone interested in becoming a Big, the first step is a 30-minute volunteer info session that you can attend virtually or in person. The guided match process begins from there. Once matched, the next step after that is to just be a friend, one smile and one positive, low-key “hang-out” time after another.
Interesting and uncommon note: Big Brothers Big Sisters has its roots right here in St. Joseph. The Westheimers, German immigrants and dry goods’ store entrepreneurs, arrived in St. Joseph in 1859 and hired rising star architect E.J. Eckel to build what is known today as the Whiskey Mansion in 1884. They raised eight sons at the Whiskey Mansion, now part of the Harris-Kemper National Register neighborhood – and one of the sons founded Big Brothers and Big Sisters of America.
Real change in almost any environment happens from the inside out. And no one knows just how to create the kind of contagious change a community needs like the community members themselves. In St. Joseph, and many communities like it, a revolution is happening around this kind of grassroots-based leadership – and it’s only just begun.
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