The local chapter of Big Brothers Big Sisters celebrates 100 years of mentoring this October. After a century of success, the mission remains the same while the need for volunteers grows.
About 50 “littles” participate in the annual 76ers post-game basketball clinic at the Wells Fargo Center, led by Big Brothers Big Sisters CEO Marcus Allen and local coaches (here in 2014).
When the Philadelphia division of Big Brothers Big Sisters was founded back in 1915, the program got off to a promising start: By 1918, 101 matches were made for one-on-one mentoring and supervised sports and activities. Charles Edwin Fox, the assistant district attorney of Philadelphia, who would go on to found the Philadelphia law firm Fox Rothschild LLP, helped establish the program (then called the Big Brother Association) to put a caring adult in the life of a child who needs one. “Over the years, there have been different mind-sets about the value of mentoring,” says Marcus Allen, CEO of BBBS. “We’ve stuck to our guns in understanding that mentoring can change the lives of our kids as well as the outcomes in our communities.”
One hundred years later, the Southeastern Pennsylvania division of BBBS serves as the national headquarters for the program and is the third-largest agency of the more than 330 affiliates across the US. Last year, more than 6,000 volunteers and children—better known in the program as “bigs” and “littles”—participated in mentoring, with more than 1,000 new matches formed. On October 13, BBBS will celebrate its century of service with the gala The Big Night Out: An Event Honoring Mentoring Heroes, held at the Kimmel Center. The event is very much a celebration—one of the program’s mentors will be honored for his work with six “littles” over the last 44 years—but also a means to draw more attention to the organization and attract more volunteers.
“It really comes down to educating people about who we are and what we do,” says Allen. “We are looking for men and women willing to make a commitment for no less than 12 months who are able to spend a minimum of four hours per month with a child, to watch a movie or just run errands. We want kids to see what a normal life is like.”
BBBS’s services are expanding to target at-risk groups like foster children, the LGBT community, and victims of child trafficking. And earlier this year the organization launched the Mentoring Partnership & Resource Center to work with other mentoring agencies throughout the region to further extend their reach. The figures are staggering: Currently BBBS serves nearly 3,200 children and young people between the ages of 7 and 18. Through the new center, the total catapults to 200,000.
“BBBS has one of the best in-class mentoring models,” says Abigail Ellis, executive director of MPRC. “What we want to do is bring the best practices in mentoring to other organizations, and we’re doing a number of things to accomplish that, like training and technical assistance.”
Even as BBBS expands its footprint throughout the region, the focus is very much the same as it was a hundred years ago. “At the end of the day, one-on-one mentoring is what we do. It’s not our mission—our mission is to make kids’ lives better. We just happen to be really good at mentoring and know that it works.”