Nearly two years ago I took a leap of faith and left Chicago after 16 years to join the Big Brothers Big Sisters of Southwestern Illinois team.
Beyond having my parents nearby to help my husband and I raise our three year old son, I was eager to start my new journey leading a 40 year old organization with a world class reputation.
You see, the Big Brothers Big Sisters mission is easy to get behind. Each one of us has a story of an adult in our life who took a chance on us. They cheered us on. They showed up for us. They defended our potential.
For me, my potential was nurtured early on growing up as a cop’s daughter in a two parent household in Wood River. We didn’t have a lot in those days but my needs were always met, love and support abundant. There was never a doubt that if I wanted something bad enough, and I was willing to work for it, anything was possible.
The children in the Big Brothers Big Sisters program are also full of hopes, dreams and aspirations. At the same time, they face adversity at a higher rate than the average child in our community. Nearly 85% live at or below the poverty line and most come from single-parent households.
Mentoring is like a bridge for these children. It builds social and emotional support, confidence and resilience that helps young people become college and career ready.
The impact of mentoring also has a direct and positive impact on our local economy. For every $1 invested in mentoring, there is an $18 return to the community in additional tax revenue and increased disposable income earned over a lifetime.
Every January, the news is full of stories of people trying to eat more healthfully and exercise more often. This year, Big Brothers Big Sisters is changing that story and asking: What if you could resolve something more important, more impactful? What if you could make a resolution worth keeping, one that inspires more resolutions?
In 2021, I am asking our community to resolve to become a Big Brother or Big Sister. More than 45 Littles in our community are waiting to be matched with a Big, and the only way to ensure they have someone to inspire them to reach their potential is for more adults to step up and volunteer.
Being a Big means committing to spending a few hours a month with a young person doing things that you love to do, like playing games, watching movies or learning how to cook. Like everything else in today’s world, mentoring has even gone virtual.
If your life was vastly changed for the better by an adult who believed in you, what better way to pay it forward than to mentor a child who needs you.
For more information on how to become a Big please visit: www.bbbsil.org/beabig.
Written by Heather Freed, LCSW
Heather Freed is the President & CEO of Big Brothers Big Sisters of Southwestern Illinois and Contributing Columnist for the Edwardsville Intelligencer.