About 40 Island residents are currently participating as Big Brothers and Big Sisters. It sounds like a lot, but it fills less than half the need for role models and mentors in the lives of Island boys and girls, according to Connie Alexander, chairman of the advisory board for the Island affiliate of Big Brothers Big Sisters of Cape Cod and the Islands (BBBSCCI).
A science teacher for 17 years at the Tisbury School, Ms. Alexander has seen the impact of “Bigs,” as big sisters and brothers are called, not only on their “Littles,” as their young friends are called, but also on themselves.
“I’ve seen how precious that mentorship can be to kids,” Ms. Alexander said. “They just thrive on the undivided one-on-one attention and it provides stability and enriches their lives. It enriches the lives of the Bigs as well.”
Hadley Luddy, executive director of the Cape and Islands branch said the national organization tracks the benefits of mentorship on young lives. “Kids with big brothers and big sisters are 46 per cent less likely to use drugs and 52 per cent less likely to skip school than their peers nationally,” Ms. Luddy said.
Big Brothers Big Sisters (BBBS) is a high-profile national organization and has benefited in its 107-year history from corporate contributions, but they have dwindled in recent years. As a result, BBBS has scaled back outreach staff recently. For the Island, that has meant the loss of a full-time staffer drumming up and matching volunteer big sisters and brothers with Island kids.
“We had 70 matches on the Island a few years ago and I believe there are at least 100 kids who could benefit from this program,” said Ms. Alexander, who has been chairman of the BBBS advisory board here for the past six years. “I see the benefit of mentoring and I see the difference in those who have had it.
“In fact, the reason I got involved was watching a Big Brother relationship a friend of my son had years ago. When my kids went off to college, I just thought, ‘this is something I want to do.'”
Island residents interested in participating in BBBS can help in several ways. “Financial donations are always welcome,” Ms. Alexander said. “We have several openings on the Island advisory board and we really need more people to step up as Big Sisters and Big Brothers. We have plenty of kids who could use their help.”
Advisory board members also help coordinate the Blooming Bids for Kids auction fundraiser each summer. The Island BBBS has launched a holiday gift-giving partnership with Bunch of Grapes bookstore in Vineyard Haven, according to Ms. Alexander. “Our kids will be encouraged to go to Bunch of Grapes and make a wish list of books they are interested in and we hope Island residents will purchase a book or two as a holiday gift.”
Ms. Alexander can be contacted at 508-693-0101 and donations may be sent to BBBS, P.O. Box 605, Vineyard Haven, MA 02568.