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North Hills Monthly

How Does Big Brothers Big Sisters of Greater Pittsburgh Enrich Children’s Lives?

Jul 31, 2016 08:17PM ● By Hilary Daninhirsch

North Hills Monthly Magazine (NHMM): What is the mission of Big Brothers Big Sisters (BBBS)?

Jan Glick (Glick): The mission is to provide children facing adversity with strong and enduring, professionally supported, one-to-one relationships that change their lives for the better forever.

NHMM: What sets the Pittsburgh chapter apart from the other 330 BBBS chapters in the nation?

Glick: We won Agency of the Year last year and Board of the Year. We also won the Pinnacle Award, which only five other agencies in the country won. It’s accountability, it’s quality, it is adhering to standards; it’s being financially in a good place to support innovation and support the matches. Truthfully, our culture here is one of flexibility and positivity and caring about staff, board members and volunteers. It is a positive place to work, knowing at the end of the day, you are making a tremendous difference in the lives of children.

NHMM: How many Big Brothers Big Sisters matches do you work with in Pittsburgh?

Glick: The goal was to serve 1,400 or more; last calendar year, we served exactly 1,400, and we are well on our way to serve an additional 80 or more.

NHMM: How does the program work?

Glick: There are three core programs—the first of which is our standard community-based program in which we match Bigs and Littles based on location, personalities and preferences. The Bigs go out into the community to pick their Littles up at their homes. It is not about being a ‘Disney daddy’ but about a caring, consistent relationship—they may wash the car together, get ice cream, go to museums, etc. We have lots of activities we provide and opportunities through donated tickets, but other options are just doing things on your own.

The second program is our site-based program—it runs through the school year, at a school or an after-school site. A subset is workplace mentoring, where Littles go to the site, and we have programs with workplace sites, like Comcast, Eat n’ Park, BNY Mellon, and American Eagle.

The last program is a new program—Mentor 2.0. The program is currently at Brashear and will expand to a charter school in Homestead. The idea is to follow the students from ninth through twelfth grades. Part of it is a curriculum-based online component, and the other part is traditional face-to-face. The point is to give high school students the soft, noncognitive skill set they need to graduate.

NHMM: What are the criteria to be a Little, and why would a child be drawn to this organization?

Glick: The minimum age to become a Little is between 6 and 13; they can stay matched through high school. Most children come from single-parent homes and are below the poverty level. The idea is not to replace a parent but to be a constant friend, to have a relationship with someone who will talk about choices, to make good judgments, and expose them to things they might not otherwise have opportunities to see.

NHMM: What about the qualifications to become a volunteer?

Glick: You have to be 21 for the community-based program. You have to have a car. And you have to go through lots and lots of clearances and interviews and training—we don’t accept everyone. We want to make sure people are doing it for right reasons; that they will stick around. There is no maximum age.

NHMM: Have long-term relationships been established between Bigs and Littles?

Glick: Our average match-link here is one of the highest in the country: 4.3 years. It is very much about lifetime relationships. That’s not to say that all of them last, but when you’ve had someone in your life for five to eight years, you don’t end that relationship. 

NHMM: What is the value to a child of having a Big Brother or Sister? How does it impact his or her future?

Glick: There are never enough people to care about and love our children—it’s a caring, consistent adult that is an added value to their lives. Someone they know they can rely on and is there for them, who is nonjudgmental. Sometimes our volunteers don’t realize the impact that is made on a child until later. 

NHMM: What are the benefits to volunteers?

Glick: Most of the volunteers will say that they’re getting more out of it than the Littles. They’re fulfilling a need in the community. When there’s a child that they become very attached to, it makes a big impact to know you’re making a difference and someone is caring about you as well.

NHMM: Are there any new programs or initiatives that you’d like to talk about?

Glick: Just that we need volunteers for site-based programs. We have a program at Schiller, which is on the North Side. There are kids on the waiting list, and we do not have enough volunteers.  

NHMM: Where do you see the organization heading in the coming years?

Glick: I feel really strongly that if you care about Pittsburgh, you have to care about the work that we do—it costs us about $1,200 to match a child for a year, but it costs over $98,000 dollars to keep a child in Shuman Center. The children we serve are part of the future of Pittsburgh. It is important to keep all kids in school, graduating and going on to college, trade school or the military. Additionally, we need to grow and in order to grow, we need volunteers. We’ve been growing consistently over the last seven years, and we want to stay on that trajectory.