Most kids at-risk have something in common: The need for a mentor. And nobody knows that better than Big Brothers Big Sisters (BBBS), a non-profit organization that’s been in the mentoring business for more than a century.
St. Luke’s Health System is a longtime community partner with Big Brothers Big Sisters, and many St. Luke’s employees and physicians support the organization as mentors. All mentors are recognized for their dedication throughout the month of January (National Mentoring Month), and Jan. 21 is National Thank Your Mentor Day.
Katie Wegley, a marketing coordinator at St. Luke’s, became involved in Big Brothers Big Sisters in 2006. Since joining the organization, she’s been a Big Sister to the same Little Sister for nearly a decade, and currently serves on their board of directors.
As a Big, as a board member, and as an employee of St. Luke’s Wegley is happy to help spread the word about this terrific volunteer opportunity.
“Kids need adults in their lives who are both caring and good role models,” Wegley said. “That’s what Big Brothers Big Sisters is all about—matching at-risk children with adults who can help shape their future, all while having fun.”
Wegley isn’t the only St. Luke’s employee committed to Big Brothers Big Sisters. “There are several of us who volunteer,” she said, “and once you’re in, you’re hooked.”
When he first heard about Big Brothers Big Sisters, Dr. Alejandro Necochea thought it sounded like a big commitment. “But after learning about the huge waiting list for kids looking for a mentor, it was a no-brainer.”
Dr. Necochea, a St. Luke’s hospitalist, learned about the Big Brothers Big Sisters program by chance, during a public health lecture in Baltimore where he was then living.
“Baltimore is a city where poverty and lack of opportunity plague most of its citizens. I wanted to become more involved in helping the community but wasn’t sure how, when the program essentially came to me [at the lecture].”
Dr. Necochea was matched with nine-year-old Doug, a happy and friendly little boy who was curious and easygoing, despite the fact his father was in prison.
“Big Brothers Big Sisters made it easy to get along,” Dr. Necochea said. “They made sure we had plenty of activities to enjoy together, like Orioles games, fishing, and a visit to the Ravens stadium.”
But mostly Doug and Dr. Necochea just liked to hang out, playing laser tag and miniature golf. It was a true partnership. “Doug taught me how to play basketball and I taught him to play soccer,” he said.
Sometimes the duo simply sat back and relaxed, watching TV with Doug’s grandma and little sister.
“It was fun to do kid things again,” Dr. Necochea said. But he also brought Doug along on less exciting events. “We volunteered together for the city-wide street clean-up held every year in Baltimore.”
Of course, being a kid isn’t all fun and games, and neither is mentoring. “We had to navigate some difficult times during our three years together,” Dr. Nechochea said.
Like the time Doug’s family had to move because someone was shot in the parking lot of their apartment building. Or the time Doug lost his spot at the charter school they had worked so hard to get him into.
“Those were intense moments, but they also helped me realize how close I had gotten to my little brother.”
One day while they walked around Doug’s neighborhood, Doug spotted some trash on the ground, picked it up, and carried it to a nearby trash can. That wasn’t a common thing to do in his neighborhood, so Dr. Necochea asked why he had done it. Doug’s reply? Because “you taught me to.”
When they were first matched up, Dr. Necochea didn’t have an explicit agenda to teach his new little brother anything in particular. But clearly, Doug was watching and listening.
For Dr. Necochea, realizing he could be a positive role model for a child who had a lot of challenges was the most rewarding part of being a Big Brother.
There are kids like Doug in every city, including right here in southwest Idaho. In Baltimore, dozens of kids age out of the program every year before they are matched with a big brother or sister.
Dr. Necochea is very happy that he made the decision to be a Big Brother and hopes that “more people choose to take advantage of the opportunity to become a mentor.”
January is National Mentoring Month and Big Brothers Big Sisters of Southwest Idaho is pulling out all the stops to recruit new volunteers. More than 80 local kids have asked Big Brothers Big Sisters for a mentor and are waiting for that special person to come along.
“Our goal is to help some of those kids start their year off right by finding 20 new Bigs this month,” said Olivia Sorensen, development director.
While they are always looking for both Big Brothers and Big Sisters, male role models are especially needed. “We’re always in urgent need of men willing to volunteer and two-thirds of the kids waiting are boys looking for a male role model,” Sorensen said.
Learn how to help Big Brothers Big Sisters reach their goal by visiting http://www.bbbsidaho.org/.
Holly Miller works in the Communications and Marketing department at St. Luke's.