Big Sister reaches out to Hub women of color
Frederick Ellis Dashiell Jr. | 10/28/2009, 5:24 a.m.
The Big Sister Association of Greater Boston is looking for a few good women.
From its humble offices, filled with comfy chairs, Big Sister is preparing to launch a new program to combine with current programs that will help it increase its presence in places where it services a large number of girls.
“We would like to immerse ourselves in areas where we have a lot of little sisters,” said Judy Neufeld, manager of recruitment and community partnerships.
Started in 1951 by three Cambridge residents, Big Sister was created to match young girls with women in one-to-one mentoring relationships. The initial class matched six girls with mentors; today Big Sister serves more than 3,000 girls annually through its various mentoring programs.
According to Big Sister’s statistics, 85 percent of the little sisters are girls of color, which includes blacks, Hispanics and those who consider themselves “multi-race.” Specifically, 29 percent of its little sisters are African American and, according to Big Sister, its average little sister is 12 years old, is either African American or Hispanic and lives in Dorchester, Roxbury or Mattapan.
The push to find more big sisters of color stems from specific requests from the little sisters for big sisters of color. “People often want a big sister to understand their culture,” said Neufeld. The new program, Neighborhood-Based Mentoring, aims to address this request.
The idea for Neighborhood-Based Mentoring, or NBM, came from the Diversity Committee, a group of individuals brought together by Big Sister to not only extend its reach, but to also help it think more creatively and recruit more big sisters of color. “As we talk to women who live in Dorchester, we’ve gotten feedback that people want to volunteer in their neighborhood,” said Maren Johnson, associate director of marketing and communications.
“NBM takes the best of all our programs and incorporates them,” said Neufeld.
She is correct. Like their School-Based Mentoring, NBM will operate out of a local elementary school, the Lilla G. Frederick Pilot Middle School in Dorchester. However, the program is not limited to only meeting at the school. Like Big Sister’s Community-Based Mentoring, big sisters will have the opportunity to expand, as the program grows.
The success of the Big Sister’s programs comes in part from people like Shannon Robinson, of Dorchester, who has been mentoring with Big Sister for close to seven years. Recently Robinson, 46, has been working with the diversity committee to help recruit more big sisters of color. “Through the diversity committee, we’ve seen an increase in the interest of minority women,” Robinson said.
For Robinson, it’s simple. “If we can show women that they can impact the neighborhood they live in, they are more interested in volunteering,” she explained.
With a launch date of October 31, final preparations are being made to match big sisters with little sisters. To that end, Big Sister is tapping into all of their resources to get word out about NBM and speak to as many people as possible. “Word of mouth is the best advertisement for Big Sister,” said Johnson.
Big Sister is always looking for women who have an interest in mentoring. “There are more than 300 girls waiting to be matched with a big sister,” said Neufeld. For more information about Big Sister Association of Greater Boston, visit their Web site at www.bigsister.org.