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South Salt Lake Journal

Big Brothers Big Sisters helping children reach their potential

Jan 08, 2019 03:29PM ● By Sarah Payne

Kids facing adversity get mentors to help them develop the skills and confidence they need to succeed. (Photo courtesy of Nancy Winemiller-Basinger)

By Sarah Payne | [email protected]

Many kids face difficulties in their lives, and it’s beneficial to have someone who cares and can help guide them through tough times. That’s where Big Brothers Big Sisters comes in, providing trained mentors to guide children through the mazes of childhood, helping them grow up knowing that someone cares about them and their potential. 

“We serve kids facing adversity through one-to-one mentoring in order to change the trajectories of their lives,” said Nancy Winemiller-Basinger, president and CEO of Big Brothers Big Sisters of Utah.

Big Brothers Big Sisters is a nonprofit dedicated to helping children develop the skills, goals and confidence they need to succeed. Big Brothers Big Sisters, a nationwide organization, is dedicated to serving children, ages 6–18, who face adversity in their lives and who don’t have that safety net. 

The Utah chapter was started in 1978. More than 13,000 children have been positively affected by the work of this organization in Utah since that time. Merlin Jensen, current CEO of Complete Recovery Corps, has been on the board of directors for Big Brothers Big Sisters of Utah for about five years. This year, he is chairman, overseeing the direction of the Utah chapter. The Utah branch bases most of its activities in the Salt Lake county area, in which more than 800 matches are made annually, with approximately 150 more in northern Utah, southern Utah and Summit County.

“Big Brothers Big Sisters of Utah is there to help find mentoring opportunities and help mentor children that need help and wouldn’t otherwise get mentored,” said Jensen. This need may arise through family situations, such as single-parent homes, incarcerated parents, substance abuse, financial situations, demographics and more. Big Brothers Big Sisters of Utah finds a mentor or creates a match between a ‘big brother’ or ‘big sister’ volunteer and these children. This mentor will spend personal, one-on-one time with the child, helping them develop social skills, form educational goals and even career goals.

“Having a great friend in your corner for a good long time, can have the greatest impact,” said Winemiller-Basinger. 

Big Brothers Big Sisters of Utah encompasses three main programs, in order to “meet kids where they are,” said Winemiller-Basinger. The first is the community-based program in which a mentor will be assigned to a specific child in the community who will become their “little brother” or “little sister.” 

Big Brothers Big Sisters of Utah also has a site-based program which takes place on a specific day each week in elementary schools of Utah. The children are bussed to a facility, often a sponsor of Big Brothers Big Sisters of Utah such as Comcast, at a specified time and date. 

Thirdly, Big Brothers Big Sisters of Utah works with high schools in a program known as Mentoring 2.0. Currently, Cottonwood High School is involved with the Mentoring 2.0 program. Starting in the freshman year, a match will be made in which a mentor will guide a specific student through their high school journey. 

Prospective mentors are recruited through a variety of channels, including through events hosted by Big Brothers Big Sisters of Utah annually in order to raise both revenue and awareness. After a lengthy application process in which background checks and other such tests are conducted, the mentor is presented with the opportunity to mentor their new “little brother” or “little sister.”

A successful match is important. Mentors are volunteers, chosen for a specific child based on factors such as personality and interests. The need for more volunteers is great. The waiting list of unpaired children waiting for a match, at the beginning of 2018, held 270 names. At the close of the year, the waiting list is predicted to contain 165 names, approximately 25 of whom have been waiting longer than two years for a mentor. Male volunteers are especially in demand, with a high number of young boys awaiting mentors.

These relationships are meant to last, giving the child a safety net throughout their childhood years. Average match length is 27 months. Mentors are asked for a commitment of at least 12 months, in order for the child to benefit as much as possible from their big brother’s or big sister’s guidance.

The organization is making its mark, with 1,322 children matched this past year. On average, 91 percent of these children live in low- to moderate-income households, 10 percent have an incarcerated parent, 47 percent live with a single parent and 5 percent live with neither parent. Nine percent of these children are refugees.

There are a few ways to help Big Brothers Big Sisters of Utah in its efforts to meet the needs of children. One way is to volunteer. Big Brothers Big Sisters of Utah needs all the volunteers it can get. People can contribute by donating clothing and home goods to their nearest Savers location. Big Brothers Big Sisters of Utah has an agreement with Savers in which a certain amount of money is donated to the organization for the items donated. Big Brothers and Big Sisters Officials appreciate online donations. Three major events —Bowl for Kids’ Sake, Golf for Kids’ Sake for golfers and Chef and Child, in which Utah chefs put together a dinner for a gala and auction — help raise funds and promote awareness of the nonprofit.

Sponsorships, from Progressive Leasing and Comcast, make programs such as Mentoring 2.0 possible. Big Brothers Big Sisters of Utah also thanks Wells Fargo and other partners for their cooperation. 

“As I’ve spent time in nonprofit, volunteer spaces, I’ve really wanted to focus on areas that are going to be our future generation—the folks that are going to be running the businesses, running the government in the future, and I think that’s the children of today,” Jensen said. “I think there’s a huge need in today’s society for mentors that can help with children, giving them good goals, helping them with career goals and school goals in the future.” 

“The difference you can make in the life of a child is pretty phenomenal,” said Winemiller-Basinger. “We need more mentors, more people willing to invest a few hours in kids that really need it.”