Photograph by Ben Fournier
Jeanne Casey (left) and Mary Fox
For 51 years, Big Brothers Big Sisters of Delaware has been making a big difference. Adult volunteers help to transform young lives by providing one-on-one time and serving as positive role models for children who are considered at risk.
Most of these kids live in households that are struggling financially, often headed by a single parent. With resources stretched thin, there’s often no way to get to Little League practice, the library or attend cultural events.
Big Brothers Big Sisters teaches children right from wrong and how to make wise choices.
The organization is recognized as best in class by juvenile justice professionals, including the U.S. Department of Justice’s Office for Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention.
Each year, 1,200 children and youth ages 6-17 are buoyed by mentors through the Delaware program. The kids are known as Littles. The grownups are Bigs. “Any child can benefit from a mentor,” says executive director Mary Fox. “What we are trying to do is identify the most vulnerable children.”
The children are divided almost evenly between boys and girls. But because more women volunteer than men, there is a waiting list for mentors for boys. “The vast majority of children we serve come to us through their parents, single parents in particular,” Fox says. “They also come to us through their schools and through counseling services.”
Big Brothers Big Sisters succeeds in helping kids in three critical areas: doing better in school, avoiding bad and risky behaviors, and social and emotional gains, such as improved confidence and self-esteem, higher goals and stronger relationships with others. Researchers found that after 18 months of spending time with their Bigs, children in the program were 46 percent less likely to start using drugs and 52 percent less likely to skip school. Kids did better in school and formed stronger family bonds.
The organization also offers mentoring for children with a parent in prison, students who are underperforming in school and kids who are lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender.
Nationwide, Big Brothers Big Sisters has been helping change kids’ perspectives since 1904 when a New York City court clerk recruited volunteers to mentor boys who got on the wrong side of the law. In 1977, the Big Brothers Association and Big Sisters International joined forces and became Big Brothers Big Sisters of America.
There are three locations in Delaware: Wilmington in New Castle County, Dover in Kent County and Georgetown in Sussex County.
Volunteers are as diverse as the children they serve. In Wilmington, some mentors visit schools through corporate support; in Sussex County, a growing number of retirees are volunteering. Bigs and Littles get together two to four times each month. A few volunteers mentor more than one child. Some married couples mentor together. “It isn’t the easiest volunteer experience you could ask for,” Fox says. “But it is the most rewarding.”
Want to volunteer to change a child’s life for the better? Contact Big Brothers Big Sisters at www.bbbsde.org.