Our Y leaders will help pair members with children in need and offer them a place to work out, get creative or simply talk.
From swim lessons to power lifting and after-school care, the Y serves many purposes, and it just added another. The Y and Big Brothers Big Sisters of the Sun Coast partnered to bring mentors and a place to meet to children in need.
BBBS has long partnered youth ages 6 to 18 with mentors who furnish a support system and a chance to explore activities they may normally not be exposed to. During COVID-19, the need for mentors has gotten stronger; there are currently more than 60 youth waiting to be partnered with a mentor.
BBBS volunteer coordinator Teresa Taft said the organization is looking for volunteers who are wiling to meet with their littles a few times a month for various activities and time to talk.
“Being a mentor basically changes the young person’s life,” Taft said. “Most of the kids that are in the program are from single-family households and often don’t have someone they can talk to. The mentors offer them that opportunity and just a sense of stability.”
Now, the Y will work to help partner some of its 6,500 members with BBBS youth in need. Y leaders will help recruit mentors over the age of 18 to apply for the program.
Lisa Meskil, the director of member engagement at the Evalyn Sadlier Jones Branch, said the partnership was a natural fit for the Y, particularly as it reaches its one-year mark as a new organization.
“Both organizations are committed to providing a safe and inspiring environment for the littles and their mentors,” Meskil said. “Our partnership will allow Big Brothers and Sisters and their littles to develop healthy habits together while learning valuable life lessons.”
If a Y member is approved, the Y will then serve as a possible meeting place for mentors and their littles. Littles who do not have a membership will be admitted free.
Additionally, Y scholarships will be available to the littles for all of its youth programming which includes swim lessons, lessons on healthy exercise and eating habits, art enrichment, life skills and education on teen mental health.
“We definitely have a lot to offer, but the key is connecting with these kids and creating healthy habits they can carry throughout their lives,” Meskil said.
Bigs do not have to meet at the Y after they are paired, however. Taft recommends bigs take their littles to do an activity they would already be doing and if that’s outside the Y, it’s OK.
“If you play golf or you play tennis or you go to the farmer’s market or the beach, take them with you,” Taft said. “If the big enjoys doing it, it’s exposing the little, more than likely, to something they wouldn’t normally have exposure to.”
Most bigs spend a few hours with their littles every other weekend, but Taft said the more time spent with them, the better.
Interested parties will have to provide character references and undergo a background check and fingerprinting. Additionally, the overall goal of the program is for bigs to have an ongoing relationship with their littles, so BBBS tries to look for committed volunteers.
However, once mentors are paired with a little, Taft said it’s a life-changing experience.
“Volunteers see before their eyes a child just blooming and blossoming,” she said. “It’s just incredibly rewarding because at first, they may not be doing well in school or they may need some direction, and then before you know it, they’re graduating and heading off to the next stage in their life.”
BBBS employees try to pair littles and bigs based on personality and location.
“These kids have been isolated and they’re lonely and some of them may be depressed,” Meskil said. “We’re excited to open our doors and be a safe place and an ally for the community again.”
Those interested in volunteering to be a mentor can call 331-4376 or visit BBBSSun.org for more information.
Join the Neighborhood! Our 100% local content helps strengthen our communities by delivering news and information that is relevant to our readers. Support independent local journalism by joining the Observer's new membership program — The Newsies — a group of like-minded community citizens, like you. Be a Newsie.