January is National Mentoring Month. Middle School Matters recognizes that each student is different and therefore has individual needs in order to be successful in high school. One of the many important support services offered through the Middle School Matters program is mentoring.
United Way partners with two research-based nonprofits, Big Brothers Big Sisters of Central Texas and Communities In Schools, to provide mentoring services to the students of Decker, Mendez and Webb Middle Schools.
Students who are matched with a mentor see a rise in their class attendance, grades and overall satisfaction with school. In addition, adults who volunteer as a mentor see positive changes in their own lives as well.
Alison, a graphic designer who has lived in Austin for two years, has learned a lot from her time mentoring. She has learned more about other cultural traditions, family dynamics, and herself. Alison has mentored Izzy, a 15-year-old student in Austin, for a little over one year. Izzy’s family originally signed her up for Big Brothers Big Sisters to help Izzy work through bullying issues and to set up a support network for her outside of school. Since Izzy and Alison have begun their journey together, Alison has noticed changes in Izzy’s behavior.
“She has always been kind and caring, but had a hard time showing it before in school. Now, she is more confident in herself and able to share her creative and happy side.”
Izzy and Alison first bonded over their love of art. On their first outing, Alison took Izzy to a bookstore. They sat together and looked through an illustration book of posters while discussing their favorite art, and were able to get to know each other better through their mutual passions. Alison has become a part of both Izzy’s and her family’s life. She attended Izzy’s quinceanera and cooked a Christmas meal for Izzy’s family this past year. While Alison enjoys the relationship she shares with both Izzy and her family, she wants others considering being a mentor to know it is a time commitment. However, if you are able to give 3-4 hours per month, it is worth the time for the relationship you can have with your “little.”
There is a growing need for mentors in Austin, specifically male mentors who are bilingual. Megan Rodriguez, Customer Relations Supervisor of Big Brothers Big Sisters of Central Texas (BBBS), echoes Alison’s advice to prospective volunteers. Each volunteer interested in being a big brother or sister needs to commit to one year minimum and 3-4 points of contact with their little per month for a couple of hours each.
Once a volunteer has submitted an application, background check and references, they are invited in for a 1.5 hour interview. This helps the Match Support Specialist get to know the prospective volunteer better to find them the best match. Volunteers also go through training, which includes group discussions and peer acting to help problem solve common situations, such as working with a little who is not talkative, addressing family dynamics and navigating cultural differences.
When it comes time for the volunteer to meet their new little, a BBBS employee escorts the volunteer to the house of their new mentee to meet them and their family. After the first introduction, the mentor will have access to contact their little and their family to plan outings. The BBBS supports volunteers throughout the relationship by resolving any problems and occasionally checking in with the little and their family. BBBS also hosts free monthly events for volunteers to attend with their little, such as bowling or sailing.