The Big and Little of being a Mentor

If you are a parent and you thought
that there was a way to prevent your child getting involved in drugs and
alcohol, less likely to be aggressive, get on better with their families and be
more confident in schoolwork performance, most parents would jump at the

Here in Cayman there is a way,
through the Big Brothers and Big Sisters mentoring programme, which matches
children with adults who provide friendship and support for the child.

The idea is simple: you pair
children with an adult who will give them support and help children reach their
potential. It is an idea that most of us can relate to if we think back to our
own childhoods. As Marilyn Conolly, executive director Big Brothers Big Sisters
Cayman says: “Each one of us can look back on our childhood and think of
someone who inspired us; we all have had a mentor in our lives.”

Big Brother Big Sister is the
oldest mentoring programme in the world and it has a proven track record. A
study in 1994 into the impact of the programme produced some interesting
statistics. After following children and mentors for 18 months, researchers concluded  that children on the programme were: 46 percent
less likely to begin using illegal drugs ;27per cent  less likely to begin using alcohol ;52per cent
less likely to skip school ;37 per cent less likely to skip a class and made
them more confident of their performance in schoolwork.

The origins of Big Brother go back
to 1904 when a young New York City court clerk named Ernest Coulter was seeing
more and more boys come through his courtroom. He recognised that caring adults
could help many of these kids stay out of trouble, and he set out to find
volunteers. That marked the beginning of the Big Brothers movement. By 1916,
Big Brothers had spread to 96 cities across the United States. At around the
same time, the members of a group called Ladies of Charity were befriending
girls who had come through the New York Children’s Court. That group would
later become Catholic Big Sisters. In 1977, when Big Brothers of America and
Big Sisters International joined forces and became Big Brothers Big Sisters of

The programme came to Cayman in
1984 and it works by matching children, who have been referred to the programme
either by schools or parents, to an adult with similar interests. The children
come from diverse backgrounds and all situations. Within the community-based
programme parents refer their children themselves. This is not a negative move
on the part of the parents, Marilyn says, but rather an insightful one. Parents
will refer for different reasons and, depending on the age group, for different
issues. “With older children for instance,” Conolly explains, “parents worry
that a child is running with the wrong crowd and needs guidance. They recognise
that at a certain age the influence of parents is surpassed by that of the
child’s peers however the child might respond to an adult, someone they see as
big sister or brother.”

Sometimes it can be that a child
needs a male confidante because there is no significant male in his life or it
might be simply that a parent just needs a helping hand.

Conolly makes it clear that “it’s
not about lecturing or telling a child what to do. It’s all about giving time
to that child and being their friend. The mission of BBBS is to help children
reach their potential through professionally supported one-on-one relationships
with mentors.

In the community-based programme
mentors will spend two hours with the child, usually at the weekend, either
just talking or involved in sports or any other activity they both enjoy.

Children are referred by teachers
in the school-based programme and the mentor will spend a supervised hour a
week in the school either talking or taking part in something like arts and
crafts. And the children love it. “The children are clamouring for mentors,”
Conolly says, “especially the younger ones. Among the six to ten year olds
having a Big Brother or Big Sister is almost a status symbol!”

The Bigs as they are called, are as
diverse in background as the Littles they mentor; from the C/O of a big company
to the secretary, mentors come from all walks of life and nationalities. BBBS
tries to match Bigs and children according to shared interests and within the
age groups that a mentor feels most comfortable with.

“There are no special
qualifications in becoming a Big,” says Conolly. “They are just regular people
who can be a reliable and responsible friend to a child. We have a saying that
anyone in the community can support our programme by giving of their time,
talent or treasure.”

Richard Hew is a Big and he echoes
what Conolly says about a Big having to be reliable and responsible. “The most
important thing about being a Big is to spend time with your Little. If you
can’t spare the time don’t start it because you will disappoint the child if
you do not turn up. Or if you are not going to be there tell them.”

Hew, president and chief executive
officer of CUC got involved personally with the programme after visiting a Big
,Little mentoring session. Employees at CUC  had chosen the scheme as one of their
community programmes and Hew and 10 other male CUC employees signed ups as Hew
recognised that it is important that the programme has  strong male models.

He has thoroughly enjoyed the
experience .He and his Little play sports. Hew has also found it has been a
learning process for him. An engineer by profession, last week he found himself
involved in a school arts and crafts session with his Little.

What is extremely important is that
mentors are suitable people. Safety is paramount   and  
everyone applying to be a mentor has to pass a police check and has to
provide three references

A matching between adult and child
usually lasts a year. “Each Big will be contracted with a child for a year,”
explains Connolly “And then we reassess the goals achieved and ask both the
child and the mentor if they want to continue. If they want to continue they
can be rematched, it can be arranged.”

 Initially though both mentor and children have
to understand it is a short term arrangement, though Conolly says that sometimes
the friendship continues out with the programme. “I know a lady who mentored a
girl until she aged out of the programme and now that the girl is at
university they still have a relationship.”

At the moment there is a hold on
new applications for mentors but they will be recruiting again shortly.
Currently the big excitement is the approaching Soup-er-Bowl, which is held on
Saturday, 6 February, at Camana Bay. 
Chefs from restaurants around the island will compete to make possibly
the best soup in the world. For $12 for adults andI$10 for children you can become
a soup connoisseur for the day and vote for your favourite. Last year 44 chefs
competed and all proceeds go directly to BBBS Cayman.