Island boys in need of big brothers

Big Brothers Big Sisters in search of Island men as mentors. 

Walker Roman (left) with his little, Isaac Trance. Several boys on the Island are looking for a mentor-mentee relationship like these two through the Big Brothers Big Sisters program. — Courtesy Big Brothers Big Sisters

Updated November 15

Walker Roman, 31, says his decision to become a mentor to 12-year-old Isaac Trance has been a rewarding experience through the Big Brothers Big Sisters of Cape Cod & Islands program.

“It’s been really wonderful,” Roman, an Oak Bluffs artist, told The Times.. “Something that I didn’t realize going into it was that the role of a big extends beyond just that one-on-one mentoring experience. Especially in such a tight community such as the Island, you begin to realize your role as a big is not only your relationship with your mentee, but with their family, and with their friends, and with the people you see regularly that are a part of their lives…you kind of get a different perspective on the community you’re already a part of.”

There are a number of littles — the name given to children in the program — seeking the mentorship of bigs. The problem is particularly acute with boys since the start of the pandemic, according to JR Mell, executive director for Big Brothers Big Sisters of Cape Cod & the Islands. The program provides mentorship for children, starting from ages 7 to 12, through volunteering adults of the same gender. According to Mell, the organization’s regional director, children can stay in the program until they are 18 years old. 

“Once everything started to emerge, we saw the number of women sign up for our program just skyrocket. Specifically for the Vineyard, there isn’t a girl waiting for a mentor on the Island,” Mell said. “What we did see was the number of boys being referred to us grow until we hit a cap of 16 boys on Martha’s Vineyard, who haven’t been matched in about a year and a half because we just haven’t had any male volunteers come through.”

Mell said he is unsure why this disparity difference between men and women volunteers exists. He cannot narrow it down to a single reason, but there has been speculation during the organization’s board meetings, such as the housing crisis and the need to take extra jobs to make ends meet. The lack of male volunteers is a shared experience throughout the Big Brothers Big Sisters network, according to Mell. 

Mell said the first step in unraveling the mystery of the lack of men volunteers is to advertise the volunteer positions. He said about 40 children have matched with bigs on the Island. The time commitment for bigs amounts to meeting with their littles for a few hours twice a month. Bigs and littles are paired up based on likes, interests, and similar backgrounds to help foster a positive relationship between the two. 

“Many of the bigs and littles really enjoy exploring the Island during the off-season,” Mell said. “To do something as simple as that, and to know they have that additional person in their corner really helps to change the direction of that child’s life.” 

As a big, Roman does many activities with Isaac, such as drawing, sewing, making comics, and more. 

“I think the majority of our time that we spend is completely unstructured with a lot of outside time,” Roman said. 

The program has been a mutually enriching experience for the pair, according to Roman. Roman has heard feedback from Isaac’s family members and from the Big Brother Big Sister network of how much an impact he has provided. Meanwhile, being in touch with a younger person’s thought process has given Roman a more curious mind as an adult and an artist. 

Roman’s journey to becoming a big started at Martha’s Vineyard Public Charter School. Roman used to work at the Charter School as a classroom assistant, but left after a couple of years to pursue his art career. However, he still wanted to be a part of being a benefit to children. He ended up meeting a bunch of people who have participated in the Big Brothers Big Sisters program. While selling his artwork during Tivoli Day, Roman ended up meeting Mell at a booth. 

“It was a serendipitous aligning of all these different things happening in a brief period of time that made me go ‘ok, this is something I need to pay more attention to,’ and I really focused on it from there,” Roman said. 

Mell also had experience as a big 10 years ago in Mashpee before being employed by Big Brothers Big Sisters. 

“He noted the biggest thing that I did for him was that I showed up. That I was just there twice a month,” Mell said. 

Mell said a mentor doesn’t have to be someone who can offer a lot to the child to be a good adult figure in his or her life. 

“People who feel they don’t have a lot to offer tend to be our best mentors because those are the people who show up with no predetermined notions of how they’re going to make a huge impact,” he said. “As a guy myself, I had to get over the idea that I didn’t have anything to offer and that I didn’t have the time.” Not having pre-set expectations allows the adult to meet the child’s needs and allow their mentor-mentee relationship to grow organically. 

Mell said there is no age limit for whoever wants to become a mentor, or big for a mentee, or little. Mell said one of the oldest bigs on the Island is in his 70s. 

Big Brothers Big Sisters primarily serves under-resourced families, according to Mell. A couple of examples Mell listed were single-parent households and families who have another child that requires a significant amount of attention. Many of the children that are in the program are being raised by grandparents or noncustodial parents. 

“The underlying theme throughout our program is that we’ll serve any child who could benefit and have a need for that additional positive adult in their corner,” Mell said. 

Mell encourages men on the Island to volunteer as a big. A big needs to be able to commit to being a mentor to a little for at least one year. Mell said the easiest way to get started is to go to the Big Brothers Big Sisters of Cape Cod & the Islands website

“There’s also an opportunity for the number of people who’ve moved to the Island and are working remotely and calling it home now to get involved in their community like this,” Mell said.

Updated with correction of Isaac Trance’s surname. 


  1. A very worthy program, making a difference in the lives of both the little brothers and big brothers.
    Now I have an idea which definitely meets the public interest test. It’s novel but has a real chance of making a difference in the lives of Tisbury taxpayers.
    A program could be set up whereby a citizen (big brother) is matched with a Tisbury police officer (little brother) to mentor them through the perils of being an ethical public servant.
    Imagine how many fewer lawsuits and innocent citizens snatched off Tisbury street corners there could be?
    My congratulations to Big Brothers/Little Brothers for running such a worthy, enduring program. Hopefully the beleaguered Tisbury taxpayers could also share in the success.

    • James– you were doing well but you somehow got off point and somehow equated the Tisbury police department’s lawsuits with this topic. I am often chastised here for going off topic.. But your sarcasm is noted.

      • James has a good point. .
        Perhaps the kids could set an example of civil behaviour that would benefit the Tisbury Cops.

  2. What an amazing story and program!! Thank you Mr. Roman for stepping up and for being an exceptional mentor to this young man, what a positive difference you are making in our community!

  3. James, we all know you have an ax to grind with the TPD, but how about you keep your shots at them to articles that actually have something to do with the TBD. It’s starting to get old…

    • Jim, we all know that way too many people have ground their axes for the TPD.
      For good reason.
      The TPD corruption is getting old.
      Time to clean house.
      Start with that select guy who the cops bow down to.

  4. I can highly attest to Walker Roman’s kindness, compassion and abilities to be a fantastic big brother. I hope that other men of any age on the island will think of themselves as worthy and not be afraid to step up and offer their assistance to the Big Brothers, Big Sisters program. Just being a helpful hand or a listening ear has huge value. Thank you so much to all the Bigs and Littles. ❤️

  5. So, it is okay for the honorable bigs to seek a better world for these smalls, but not for me to seek a better, more accountable world for our Tisbury law enforcement officials and the citizens?

    • No, it’s perfectly fine for you to “seek a better, more accountable world for our Tisbury law enforcement officials”. All we ask is you keep your comments about it to articles that actually have something to do with the TPD. Your quest for honey is becomeing as tired as Erik Albert’s “Beach Apartheid” foolishness. But at least he only comments on articles that have something to do with his quest.

    • James– You seem like a very motivated guy that is concerned about his community.
      Your idea of mentorship for public officials is quite honorable.
      How about expanding your passion by starting a mentorship program for wayward congress people ?
      It seems the likes of lyin’ flyin’ Ted, Ms. Looney Bobblehead, Marjorie failure scream, Moscow Mitch and others could really use some help understanding what community involvement is about.
      I applaud the big brothers and the positive impact they may have on young lives.

      You seem to want to be a cloud on a sunny day—
      As Dana says, “Man, give it a damn rest.”

  6. Obviously suppression of freedom of opinion is important to you, important enough to state the parameters within it must fit.
    The relavance is clear, if mentoring works, then it is in the public interest to broaden the program to include other sectors, like law enforcement.
    You already acknowledged that need at the beginning of your response.
    Obviously suppression matters more to you than freedom to improve society, otherwise you would not be applying all these limits.

    • James, you’re free to say whatever you want. But when you jump onto articles that have nothing to do with you’re rants, you lose a lot of credibility. Look, I agree, the TPD has issues, but it does no good to take the lid off the honey pot when honey is not the subject at hand.

    • James– I feel your pain– Where’s my violin ? The last time I saw it, it was in the box with my collection of Red Rose tea figurines..

  7. Years ago when I was a longtime Big, there were too few men to be Big Brothers then, too. In some circumstances women were matched as Bigs to boys. I understand the positive snd needed influence of the same sex Big/Little pairings, but when positive, consistent attention is needed by a boy from an adult and only women are available, it can work really well to have a Big Sister matched to a Little Brother. It’s not ideal but better than a 2 year wait-list for a boy child. Also, the matching process worked so well when we had an on-island coordinator and assistant who lived and worked within the community and could do all the in-person interviews and knew the Smalls’ families and the Bigs. It would be wonderful if the program had on-island staff again. I imagine money and housing keep staff on the Cape?

    If you have a consistent few hours once every week or two, there is not a more worthwhile, rewarding way to volunteer your time.

  8. Hi Jacqueline,

    Thanks so much for your past service as a Big–we really appreciate it! For the past 6 years we have offered families the abilities for their sons to have a Big Sister, simply due to the fact that we have so many woman volunteers. The reality is that no families on MV have taken that option and only three on the Cape have. For the past 3.5 years we had an MV Program Coordinator who lived on-island. Unfortunately during COVID they moved off and the position has been open since. I completely agree (as a 10 year Big myself) it’s definitely a very rewarding volunteer experience.

    • Thanks so much for the information. I wonder if Islanders know there’s an open, on-island staff position for BBBS? Do you know about the Facebook page, Islanders Talk? I believe there are 18,000 people in that group. If you’d like to share a job description post in that group but you’re not a group member, let me know. You can direct message me through my Facebook page.

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