Feature: Big Night Out to Make a Difference
Join AY, the Big League, a host of volunteers and an enviable list of hosts as they raise funds to benefit Big Brothers Big Sisters of Central Arkansas.
Hosts (from left): Jessica and Warick Sabin; Jacqulyn Sexton; Sherra and Rep. Eddie Armstrong; Rep. Davy Carter; Evan Mathews and Vicki Vowell; JoeDavid Rice; Travis Meyer; and Erin Hawley
Photography By Janet Warlick
Each month, more than 400 children spend time doing homework, creating artwork, playing games, etc., one-on-one with adults and young adults who care for them, people who are invested in their futures.
This program, now known as Big Brothers Big Sisters of Central Arkansas (BBBSCA), was established in 1968 when the members of five area churches began to mentor young men living in the Highland Park area. In 1972, the group Big Brothers of Pulaski County became a full affiliate of Big Brothers Big Sisters (BBBS) of America.
BBBSCA has one goal: to help children achieve success in life. This goal is accomplished through partnerships with parents/guardians, volunteers and community leaders. The youth, known as Littles, meet at least four hours each month with their mentors, known as Bigs. Bigs may be as young as high school students. There are two programs through which youth are mentored. Site mentoring takes place during the school day on school property; often Bigs meet their Littles during the lunch hour or to read, study and talk. Community-based mentoring allows the Bigs and Littles to meet twice or more during the month for activities and group outings sometimes sponsored by BBBSCA. To facilitate the matches, BBBSCA raises funds to remove the financial obstacles that could prevent mentors from offering their guidance. Because many of the outings and interactions with Littles cost nothing or very little, just about anyone — with a background check — can become a Big.
Marcus Wells became a Big in September 2011 after earning his degree from Philander Smith College, where he pledged with the fraternity Alpha Phi Alpha. The organization adopted BBBS of America as one of their national-mandated programs. Wells meets with his Little, Nick, a 12-year-old African American male, as a part of the community-based mentoring program.
“Nick and I clicked instantly. We met at the BBBSCA office, and the program coordinator said she thought Nick would need time to warm up,” Wells said, but he found the youth very talkative. They share the common interests of sports and writing. “My relationship with Nick has been a blast. He has absolutely changed; he’s more outgoing, more adventurous and talks more about what is on his mind.”
Wells said his relationship with Nick has also impacted him. “I’ve noticed a change in myself. I’m the youngest child in my family and mentoring Nick has taught me how a big brother feels. You have to be a man of your word; many of the children in the program have already faced adversity and disappointment. You do not want to add to that feeling of hopelessness.”
Wells and Nick meet once or twice a week and do small things like go out for ice cream or participate in group activities like going to the Salvation Army to serve dinner to those less fortunate and participating in Comcast Care activities, such as community cleanups.
Wells’ and Alpha Phi Alpha fraternity’s involvement is definitely relevant. Of the 428 children served in 2011, the most recent year for which statistics are available, 226 were boys; 341 were African American; and 330 lived in single parent households headed by women.
"According to research, children served by our agency are more likely to receive a bachelor's degree, have a household income of $75,000 or more and consider themselves more successful than their peers," Renee Burks, CEO, BBBSCA, said. "Youth who have a Big are not only more confident, they are 46 percent less likely to use drugs and 52 percent less likely to skip school."
BBBSCA surveyed Bigs and the parents of Littles who participated in their programs for more than a year, and according to their report, they found that:
86 percent of the children had greater self-confidence; 93 percent had improved relationships; 81 percent of the children had a better attitude about school; and 83 percent had an improved sense of outlook for their future.
Investing in the future of young people is an investment in the community. This is just one of the reasons AY is excited to partner with the Big League, the fundraising entity of BBBSCA, to sponsor the Big Night Out. This year’s event will be held June 28 at Next Level Events, 1400 W. Markham Street; tickets are $35 each in advance, $40 at the door. Tables for 10 are available for $350, and sponsor tables are $500 or $1,000 each.
"Big Night Out is a casual, more intimate fundraiser for BBBSCA. The hosts and attendees can leave this event knowing they have made a difference in the lives of our Littles," said Amy Davis, events coordinator, BBBSCA.