Celebrating its 30th anniversary this year, Santa Barbara’s Big Brothers Big Sisters (BBBS) program is looking to the future with new ways to complement its already life-changing relationships that pair “littles” with the “bigs” who mentor them.
The Family Service Agency (FSA), which runs the program, recently announced it received a three-year, $250,000 grant that will fund the Retired and Senior Volunteer Program (RSVP) through its new Boomer Bigs Club. FSA’s goal is to recruit 225 new volunteer mentors over the lifespan of the grant.
One such mentor is newly announced Big Sister of the Year Mikki Andina. “I missed interactions with younger people now that my kids are grown, so about three years ago I decided to sign up to be a mentor,” said Andina. “I love it. Emily [her little] and I have so much fun together.” Andina explained even the small moments are meaningful. “You don’t need as much time as you think,” she said. “Sometimes simply being with them while you do errands is enough. And I get to be a kid again.”
Anyone 55 and older can sign up. “Mentoring through our new RSVP Boomer Bigs Club program allows for volunteers like Mikki, whose grandchildren live out of state, to remain connected to young people and for young people to gain from the wisdom and experience of an older adult,” said Sarah Rudd, a program manager for Big Brothers Big Sisters.
BBBS is always looking for new bigs of all ages and backgrounds to join. Many matches last for years — if not lifetimes — with both littles and bigs enjoying the one-to-one interactions unique to the program. “I’m very international and have worked and lived overseas for years,” Andina said. “It’s been great to help Emily see a different perspective of the world she may not otherwise have had the chance to experience.”
Children enrolled in BBBS typically do better in school, are less prone to violent behavior, stay away from drugs and alcohol, and have stronger relationships with their families. Ninety-six percent of those participating last year in Santa Barbara County avoided delinquency, with 73 percent also improving their academic performance.