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Mentoring with Big Brothers Big Sisters of Metro Atlanta is a Life-Changing Experience

By S. Mathur

Big Brothers Big Sisters (BBBSMA) of Metro Atlanta have been carrying out their mission for over fifty years: "Providing children facing adversity with strong and enduring, professionally supported, one-to-one relationships that change their lives for the better, forever."

Contrary to the common stereotypes, kids who need Big Brothers and Big Sisters are not problem children. Mikkel Hyldebrandt says that volunteers have never found "That they are troubled or difficult youth, that volunteers have a hard time relating to. We hear time and time again from our volunteers that these apprehensions are completely unfounded, because what is most important is to build a relationship, simply being a friend, and providing a child with some sort of consistency."

The numbers tell their own story, and it is a strikingly positive one. Mentoring helps the Littles do well in school and their scholastic performance has moved into the 90th percentile. The number of graduating seniors who pursue post-secondary educational opportunities is rising, at 86%, up from 82% in 2014. The number of kids who do NOT become involved in the juvenile justice system remains steady at 99%. Big Brothers Big Sisters of Metro Atlanta enrolls over 3,000 Littles each year, ranging in age from 6 to 18 years.

Children in need are brought to the attention of BBBSMA thought partnerships with schools and counselors in the 12 metro Atlanta counties, who refer children and families. Once a child has been matched up to a mentor, the match lasts on average for 38 months, or just over three years. Hyldebrandt says that "We are also referred to by word of mouth many times. We try be very visible in local communities so families can reach out to us on their own. Our door is always open."

Many of the volunteers who serve as mentors identify with the difficulties faced by the Littles, says Hyldebrandt: "The common denominator for all of our wonderful volunteers is that they want to give back to their community in a meaningful way. Other than that, the motivation to become a mentor varies immensely, but what we do recognize is that many mentors identify with the risk factors that these kids are faced with: lack of a parenting figure, low income, scholastic and social challenges."

Over time, the BBBSMA program has developed very strong and cohesive support systems for Bigs, Littles, and their families. Shared activities range from sports to engineering projects and everything in between. Digital initiatives like an online scheduler and application, chat function and an improved enrollment process make the programs even more accessible.

Out of the many inspiring stories, there's room for just one here, about Big Brother of the Year 2016. Big Brother Kamal Shakir (Roswell) decided to become a mentor after surviving an accident. He says: "I had no idea where this relationship would lead. Over the past six years, Stephon has become far more than a Little Brother. He's a son, brother and more importantly one of my best friends."

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