Frequently Asked Questions

No question is too “Big” or “Little”

Background Information

What is your agency’s mission?
Our 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. We partner with parents/guardians, volunteers and others in the community, and we hold ourselves accountable for each child in our program achieving higher aspirations, greater confidence and better relationships, while also avoiding risky behaviors and achieving educational success. Our vision is for all children to achieve success in life. We are a prevention program, rather than a treatment program.

Why is mentoring important?
Mentoring is the act of providing guidance and friendship to someone who could use a role model for life’s choices and decisions. Mentors can help others reach goals and improve self-esteem. When mentoring children, volunteers offer to help build a strong foundation for youths as they grow. Mentors often open up new worlds to children who have few opportunities.

How does mentoring work?
It’s simple. Someone volunteers to develop a relationship with a young person, offering support and guidance. By spending time together, learning new things and enjoying friendship, the mentor helps the young person make better life choices.

Why choose this program over others?
Big Brothers Big Sisters pioneered youth mentoring in 1904. We’re the industry leader in mentoring services to children. An independent national study surveyed our programs and methods, spanning a five-year period. This research company found that children involved in Big Brothers Big Sisters mentoring programs were more likely to graduate from high school and stay out of trouble when compared to their peers without mentors. They also found that children in BBBS improved their school grades and relationships with others. Our program has proven results.

Does Big Brothers Big Sisters have any results to prove the program’s success?
Big Brothers Big Sisters of Southern Maine measures the impact of services for at-risk youth by administering a nationally accepted pre- and posttest known as the Youth Outcomes Survey. This survey shows us that Big Brothers Big Sisters of Southern Maine mentoring programs result in proven, positive short-term and long-term outcomes for youth in three main areas: educational success, avoidance of risky behaviors and increased social and emotional well-being.

  • Educationally, youths in the Big Brothers Big Sisters mentoring program have higher grades, better scholastic competence and a greater desire to graduate from high school and attend a four-year college.
  • Socially, youths in our programs feel more accepted by their peers and more connected to their family. They are also more likely to say no to drugs, alcohol, skipping school or getting in fights.
  • Emotionally, youths in the Big Brothers Big Sisters mentoring program have greater feelings of self-worth and, therefore, more hope and higher aspirations for the future.

What is Big Brothers Big Sisters of America?
Big Brothers Big Sisters of America is the umbrella organization that supports local Big Brothers Big Sisters agencies. It’s headquartered in Texas and offers standards for agencies to provide consistent, quality services.

How many chapters exist nationwide?
More than 350 agencies are spread throughout North America. Big Brothers Big Sisters of America even has partnerships with organizations across the globe, with programs in Russia, Canada and other major countries.

Where are you located in Maine?
Our main office opened in Portland in 1995. It’s at 195 Lancaster Street, centrally located a block in from Marginal Way at the corner of Lancaster and Preble. In 2004, following an expansion of services to youth in York County, a second, small office was opened there. It’s currently in Biddeford, at the North Dam Mill.

What is your greatest need?
We need volunteers. Particularly, male volunteers. And to keep those mentoring relationships going, we need funds to do it. The bottom line: we need more mentors and more dollars. With additional funds, we can offer more services to children in need.

Why do you need more Big Brothers?
Most of the children waiting for a mentor are boys (about 65 percent), and they could use a positive adult male to look up to. Most of these boys are from female-headed households and have no close male role models.

What types of programs do you offer?
Click here to learn more about our two core mentoring programs — community based and school based.

How many kids do you serve?
In fiscal year 2013–2014, we served more than 400 children in our mentoring programs. We also serve an equal amount of volunteer mentors, to assure that their experience as a Big is meaningful and worthwhile. Families of our Littles benefit too.

We know there are more children that would benefit from having a Big Brother or Big Sister. We’re working hard to increase both volunteers and funding.

About Becoming a Big

How do I become a Big?
Click the “Become a Big” button on this page, and a representative from our agency will contact you to begin the enrollment process within the next few days.

How will I be matched with my Little?
The application and interview process helps us to get to know your preferences and learn about the situation best suited for you. You also get to know us and learn what to expect. In making your match, we take into account your personality, likes, dislikes, age preferences, background and location. The final decision about a match is always yours.

How do Littles come into the program?
Children and parents may hear about Big Brothers Big Sisters from a teacher or counselor, a friend who has a Big, commercials or just about anywhere. BBBS mentoring is a voluntary program. Both the parent and child must want the match.

Who are the Littles in the program?
Our Littles come from various types of home environments and family structures, as well as different socioeconomic levels, ethnic backgrounds, and neighborhoods and schools across our entire community. Their backgrounds and personalities are unique, but they all have a need for friendship with a caring adult.

What are the requirements to mentor?
Our community-based mentoring program requires an adult volunteer to be at least 18 years old. Our school-based mentoring program typically places a high school student with an elementary or middle school student. In Greater Portland, we also engage adults in a school-based program. We want stable, positive people to volunteer. You don’t have to be brilliant, athletic, famous or rich — our kids need real people as role models.

Do the mentoring programs cost anything?
No. You don’t have to spend money. This program is about developing a relationship with a Little Brother or Little Sister. We encourage no-cost or low-cost activities to do together. We don’t have an annual membership fee. We provide volunteers with a list of fun, free activities to do. Often vendors or donors donate tickets to cultural and sporting events that we make available to our matches.

How will I know I made a difference?
You might not see results right away. Mentoring relationships take time to build trust. Our Big Brothers and Big Sisters are supported by having match support staff to help monitor their relationships. These professionals can help you see the difference you make in the life of a Little Brother or Little Sister, including increased self-esteem, becoming more outgoing, expanded interests and better grades in school. You can be instrumental in helping a child succeed.

Can I volunteer if I travel for work?
All of our programs ask for a one-year commitment. We’ve found time consistency to be one of the most important elements in being an effective mentor. Many of our Big Brothers and Big Sisters fit their relationships with their flexible lifestyles. And some of our programs are perfect for that busy corporate traveler. It’s making the right program choice for your lifestyle that counts.

Can I volunteer if I’m in college?
Absolutely. Being a Big Brother or Big Sister can greatly add to your collegiate experience. You have flexible time, and spending that time with a Little Brother or Little Sister would work well with a class schedule. As a matter of fact, we’d love to meet some of your college friends and introduce them to the idea of mentoring. (By the way, some colleges offer credit for community service when you volunteer, so check with your campus career office or volunteer center).

Once You Are Matched

When can I see my Little?
In our community-based program, you and your Little — and his or her parent — decide the best times for your match to meet. Keep a consistent schedule and see each other at least twice a month to establish a genuine relationship and comfort level. The length of outings will depend on individual circumstances.

In our school-based program, volunteers meet with their Little for one hour, one day each week that school is in session. As a Big, you choose the day and time that’s best for you, and we do the rest.

What is the match support specialist?
Strong match support is a hallmark of BBBS. The match support specialist is a person, designated to work with your match, who can help you develop your friendship; address any questions, concerns or problems; and give you guidance throughout your match. The team can help you understand what’s happening in your friendship and flag problems before they start. They can also be a helpful link to resources.

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How much money should I spend?
We discourage you from spending a lot of money on your outings. The goal of the relationship is friendship. You should focus your time on getting to know each other. We encourage you to seek out free or low-cost activities, especially in the beginning. Whenever possible, we offer group activities that are a great way to meet other Bigs and Littles! You may also receive notices for opportunities to obtain free tickets for your match to attend a variety of cultural and sporting activities.

Can I bring my partner/friend/family member on outings?
In the beginning, it’s important for you and your Little to get to know each other. This happens best on a one-to-one basis. Over time, it’s also valuable for your Little to get to know the people who are important to you. Just keep in mind that if you’re spending lots of time with others, your Little may begin to feel jealous or neglected. Remember that the main focus is the friendship YOU have with your Little.

What kinds of activities should I avoid at first?
Commercial “fun” facilities: Joker’s, Happy Wheels, etc. These can be really fun places, but they’re costly. Save them for special occasions only, such as birthdays, good grades, etc., and only if you choose this as an okay activity.

Movies: It’s important to communicate while engaged in a common interest with your Little, which is hard to do at a movie. When you do go, be sure to share your reactions and thoughts regarding what you saw, after the show.

Shopping: Avoid this as an activity unless you both agree on the purpose and goal, such as how make a sound purchase for a Mother’s Day gift or spend an allowance wisely. If you choose to shop, set limits as you would with any child who, confronted with enticing displays, wants something he or she cannot have.

What if my Little doesn’t talk to me at first?
Some children aren’t used to having an attentive listener and are uncomfortable talking. Here are some pointers:

  • Use humor to get conversations going; there’s nothing like a good laugh to break the ice. (Your match support team can give you great tips on this.)
  • Keep intermittent eye contact; look at your Little when he or she is talking, and smile when it’s appropriate. When your Little is talking, make sure he or she knows you are not distracted. Be an active listener by using phrases like “Tell me more about that,” “What happened next?” and “How did you feel?” (Not: “Why did/didn’t/won’t you?” “How could you?” etc.)
  • Be aware of your body language and facial expressions. Avoid folding your arms, rolling your eyes, frowning or otherwise showing disapproval.

How can I be an effective Big?

  • Accept your Little and his or her family as they are. It’s not about changing what is already there, but about impacting their lives in a positive way.
  • Listen — really listen. Actively try to get your Little to talk about what’s important to him or her. Remember what your Little said or shared, and follow up with interest.
  • Keep your promises and stick to your schedule. Make a commitment to your Little and show him or her that your time together is valuable and important.
  • Understand that this relationship can often look and feel one-sided. Sometimes it may feel like you are making all of the plans and all of the calls. That’s okay. Consistently initiating contact and making plans will help develop trust and show your Little that you care about him or her.
  • Involve your Little in deciding what to do with your time together. Take time to see what kinds of things your Little likes to do. It makes the Little feel like you really care about him or her.
  • Believe in magic. When having fun is a priority, you both get to explore new ideas and share experiences neither of you might otherwise have — that’s where the magic is.
  • Put friendship first. Improved grades, attitudes and behaviors will come with time.
  • Keep in contact with your match support person. Successful Bigs recognize that sometimes they don’t have all of the answers. Your match support person will help you understand what’s happening in your relationship so that you can prevent problems from developing down the road.

What will I learn from my Little?
Littles may come from living situations, family backgrounds, religions and cultures different from yours. Take turns learning about each other’s family and/or cultural traditions, and learn about your Little’s life, environment and perspective on the world from the start. Remember: as a friend, you add to your Little’s values — you don’t change the ones he or she has.

Some Littles have experienced trauma or loss in their lives. Young people (and adults, too!) don’t always have the words to express how they feel, or even know why they feel the way they do. Understand that your Little may not see the world the same way, or be as carefree, as other children you know. Sometimes children do or say the opposite of what they really mean because they’re confused or scared of getting hurt. Your match support person is there to help with situations like this and to give sound advice on what you’re experiencing.

Keep an open mind. You may not agree with the choices your Little or his or her family is making, but your role is to listen and be a friend. From your example, your Little will learn that there are many positive ways to approach situations and make choices in life. Children are strongly affected by the behavior and values of the people they admire and look up to. As a responsible, caring adult, you add choices to your Little’s future and make a positive impact on his or her life.