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Big Brothers, Big Sisters Connects Children with Mentors, Positive Role Models

Pamela, third from left, at a "Big for a Day" event at Gresham Skateworld.
  • Hear Pamela talk about the importance of mentors in a kid's life

Pamela Weatherspoon is spearheading the effort to recruit more African-American men to mentor children who need positive role models in their lives. She serves as the African American Mentoring Programs Director, Big Brothers Big Sisters Columbia Northwest, and has been instrumental in raising awareness about the need for more mentors in the Black community. In her own words, Pamela talks about her passion for helping young people develop meaningful relationships with professionals and leaders of color.

Responding to a community need

The African American Mentoring program is patterned after the success of our Latino Mentoring Program. Three years ago, when we recognized an opportunity to serve more Latino children, Big Brothers Big Sisters Columbia Northwest developed a strategic approach for attracting Latino mentors. The program was very successful: it grew from helping six children to serving more than 450.

To fund the African American Mentoring Program, we received a grant from the United Way of the Columbia-Willamette. The purpose of the program is to recruit more African American volunteers and increase our organization’s cultural competency. We currently serve many African American children but recognize that being able to look up to mentors and role models who look like them is important to children of color.

Why the Big Brothers Big Sisters Model Works

From left, Jose Ayala, Donor Consultant at United Way of the Columbia-Willamette; Pamela Weatherspoon; and Lynn Thompson, CEO, Big Brothers, Big Sisters Columbia Northwest.
  • Early experiences of a nonprofit leader

Big Brothers Big Sisters serves children from all walks of life, including children whose parents are incarcerated, children in foster care or in single-parent homes and children whose parents are too busy working to spend time with them.

Big Brothers Big Sisters has been around for over 100 years. We have measurable outcomes for every mentor relationship. When we interview the parent and child, we identify areas that need improvement, such as self-esteem, performance and behavior in school and at home. Throughout the mentoring relationship, we check in with the mentor, parent, and child to see how the child is progressing and improving.

Independent studies have demonstrated that children who are mentored through Big Brothers Big Sisters are less likely to use drugs and alcohol, skip school, and lie to their parents. The presence of Big Brothers and Sisters in a school not only improves the academic performance of the mentored child, it can also improve the performance of an entire classroom. A Public/Private Ventures study concluded that our program is even more effective in communities of color.

Reaching out to African American mentors

When I first took on the role, I began reaching out to African American leaders who are passionate about the community and excited about being involved with the Big Brothers Big Sisters program. Many of these leaders joined our council to serve as ambassadors and advisors. Everyone has been helpful with making important connections with others who care about the future of our community. This program would not be possible without their help.

One of our ongoing challenges is recruiting African American men to be Big Brothers. About 70 percent of our volunteers are women, and about 70 percent of all our kids are boys. The mentor waiting list for boys is a lot longer than the waiting list for girls. The list for African-American boys is even longer. The events we’ve held have been very successful in recruiting mentors and we are looking forward to implementing some of the great ideas the council has generated. We were especially happy to learn that some of our new mentors are encouraging their friends to become Big Brothers and Big Sisters as well.

Making an Impact

From the standpoint of being an African-American woman, I can speak to the need for more mentors in the African-American community. As someone who was raised by a single mom and who had an incarcerated guardian, I also know what it’s like to be a child wanting a mentor.

Having a mentor made a big difference in my life. I never thought college was an option until my mentor encouraged me to consider it. Because of her, I am the first person in my family to graduate from college.
Living in a small town in Southern Oregon, I was the only black girl in my high school. In my senior year, I got involved in a program called “Standing Together,” organized by Southern Oregon University. That was one of my first experiences during high school with people who looked like me.

I ended up gaining a full scholarship to Southern Oregon University. While there, I was approached to serve on the Standing Together program, and I served as assistant to the director during my freshman year. That experience solidified my interest in working for nonprofits. I’ve always wanted to work for a nonprofit and even wanted to start one, when I was growing up. I wanted to work for kids who went through the same things I went through and to provide a safe place for them.

I love my job. I have come full circle and mentor two little sisters myself. I draw energy from spending time with them, whether I have had a great day or a long, stressful one. I love hearing success stories about our Little Brothers and Sisters. Seeing the significant positive impacts a mentor can have on a child’s life is very rewarding and encourages me to continue to work hard.

Spring 2008 Colors of Influence

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"We have a amazing program with proven results. Public and private ventures study show in its research that our program is even more effective in communities of color."

"We are already serving African American children and many of who are in cross-cultural matches which have been proven to be successful. In some cases parents ask specifically for their child to be mentored by someone who looks like them. It is important for children of color to be able to look up to mentors and role models who look like them."

"From a personal standpoint, I can relate enormously with the experiences of the children that we serve. I was raised by a single mom and also had a guardian who was incarcerated."



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