Big Brothers Big Sisters of American (BBSA)
By Kate Luckert
Graduate Student, Grand Valley State University
Big Brothers Big Sisters of America (BBBSA) is the largest youth mentoring organization in the United States. The organization provides one-to-one mentoring relationships between children and adults. Its purpose is to provide friendship, emotional support, and guidance to youth through their involvement with positive role models. BBBSA's national motto is "making a difference, one child at a time."
According to the Big Brother Big Sister Association of Cincinnati, the idea of developing one-to-one mentoring relationships can be traced back to 1903. Irvin Westheimer, a Cincinnati businessman, is acknowledged as the creator of the Big Brother/Big Sister concept. He had seen a young boy and his dog scrounging for food in a trash can. Westheimer introduced himself and gave the boy a meal. When he met the boy's poverty-stricken family, Weistheimer learned that the boy's hardship was caused by his father's recent death. He soon became the boy's trusted mentor. Westheimer knew that there were numerous other children throughout the city that would benefit from having a mentor. "Relating his story to a group of young men at his home in Cincinnati, Westheimer proposed forming an 'association with the view of bettering the conditions for the large number of neglected or delinquent Jewish boys in Cincinnati.' They agreed then to become guardians of individual boys who required special attention.to act as 'Big Brothers' to each of them" (Big Brothers Big Sisters Association of Cincinnati). Then, in 1920, Westheimer founded the Big Brother Association of Cincinnati.
In 1904, Ernest Coulter, a court clerk in New York City, started New York Big Brothers. Like Westheimer, Coulter was distressed over the anguish and misery of children in the city. "Coulter had observed that many boys passing through the Juvenile Justice and Welfare Courts came from fatherless homes. He reasoned that a man's influence could help to curb their abnormal and sometimes criminal behavior. Coulter spoke to a gathering of about 40 civic and business leaders at the local men's club. He recounted the story of one young boy about to be sentenced for a petty offense: 'There is only one way to save that youngster and that is to have some earnest, true man volunteer to be his Big Brother, to look after him, help him to do right, make the little chap feel that there is at least one human being in this great city who takes a personal interest in him. Someone who cares whether he lives or dies. I call for a volunteer!' Every man in the room raised his hand. The New York Big Brothers was founded and the movement had its name" (Big Brothers Big Sisters Association of Cincinnati). Coulter is considered the founder of Big Brothers Big Sisters of America.
In 1905, Mrs. John Okeefe began a Big Sisters program in New York City after learning of the Big Brothers program's success. Okeefe became known as the first Big Sister.
The U. S. Congress chartered Big Brothers of America in 1958. Big Sisters International was chartered in 1970. The organizations merged forming Big Brothers/Big Sisters of America in 1977. Today, the BBBS of America Federation has grown to include 500 agencies in all 50 states and across the world.
The societal impact of Big Brothers Big Sisters was analyzed by Public/Private Ventures, a national research organization, through a four part report series called Making a Difference (Tierney, Grossman & Resch, 2000). The research was conducted from 1992-1995 and provided evidence of the positive effects of mentoring programs on youth.
A comparative study of 959 10- to 16-year-olds that applied to Big Brother Big Sister programs was done in 1992 and 1993. Half of the group was assigned to mentors; the other half was put on the waiting list and used as a control group. The two groups were compared after 18 months.
A few of the most noteworthy results included:
- Little Brothers and Little Sisters were 46% less likely than controls to initiate drug use during the study period. An even stronger effect was found for minority youth, who were 70% less likely to initiate drug use.
- Little Brothers and Little Sisters were 27% less likely than controls to initiate alcohol use during the study period, and minority Little Sisters were only about 50% as likely to initiate alcohol use.
- Little Brothers and Little Sisters were almost one-third less likely than controls to hit someone.
- Little Brothers and Little Sisters skipped half as many days of school as did control youth, felt more competent about doing schoolwork, skipped fewer classes and showed modest gains in their grade point averages
Ties to the Philanthropic Sector
Big Brothers Big Sisters relies heavily on volunteerism and financial support in order to deliver the organizations programs and services. Although volunteer standards for Big Brothers and Sisters can vary by each independent association, adult mentor volunteers are typically required to be 19 years or older, able to make a six-month commitment, and willing to spend time with their Little Brother or Sister two to four times per month.
Big Brothers Big Sisters depends on financial support from various sources. Public and private foundations, the United Way, individual contributions, and fundraising events are just a few of the organization's sources of support. Big Brothers Big Sisters also works with over twenty-two corporate partners including GTE, Mastercard, and the National Football League (NFL).
Key Related Ideas
- At-risk Youth
- Child Development
- Social Work
- Congressional Charters
- Individual and Corporate Giving
Important People Related to the Topic
- Ernest Coulter
- Mrs. John Okeefe
- Irvin Westheimer
Important Related Nonprofit Organizations
- America's Promise - The Alliance For Youth: www.americaspromise.org
- Children's Defense Fund
- The National Mentoring Partnership: www.mentoring.org
- Points of Light Foundation: www.pointsoflight.org
- Public/Private Ventures
- United Way of America
- Youth Link
Big Brothers Big Sisters of America. About BBBSA [online]. Available: http://www.bbbsa.org/site/pp.asp?c=iuJ3JgO2F&b=14600. (4 October 2000).
Big Brothers Big Sisters Association of Cincinnati. Big Brothers/Big Sisters History [online]. Available: http://www.bigbrobigsis.org/PB065_HISTORY.htm (4 October 2000).
Joseph Tierney, Jean Baldwin Grossman, and Nancy Resch. Making a Difference: An Impact Study of Big Brothers/Big Sisters. Philadelphia: Public/Private Ventures, 2000.
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