Bigs and Littles Making a Big Difference
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Big Brothers and Big Sisters of America is one of the premier community service organizations in the country. Headquartered in Philadelphia, the agency seeks to partner at-risk children (“Littles”) with motivated mentors (“Bigs”). Locally, BBBS is headed by Nikki Richardson, who visited the Rotary Club of Tuscaloosa last Tuesday. Rotarian David Richardson, Nikki’s husband, introduced the speaker.
The mission of her team, Richardson said, is straightforward and ambitious: to help each child achieve educational success, and to build on that foundation for success in life. Those goals are achieved through strict accountability, both in the classroom and beyond. Each child’s attendance in school is tracked, for example, along with GPA. Each child is also held accountable for developing their aspirations, their confidence and healthy relationships, as well as for avoiding risky circumstances and environments.
The challenge is real given the harsh reality for most Littles: Some 85% come from single parent homes, and 95% live below the poverty line. Moreover, because of the incarceration of either one or both of their parents, some 10% live with an aunt or uncle, often moving multiple times during the school year.
Richardson and her staff are thus hard at work on many fronts: getting to know families, crafting detailed plans for each child and mentor in their staff meetings, and tracking the results of their efforts. They try always to balance growth with the quality of their service, hoping to reach as many children as possible without overextending themselves.
The task is more difficult of late, of course, given the current economy and the devastating budget cuts for social services in recent years. Richardson said she and her colleagues faced an over 50% loss of their total budget in 2011-12. But through diligence, leadership and the generosity of the community, she is glad to report that BBBS is operating with a balanced budget and full staff in 2011.
For more information, visit www.bbbswestal.org