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Think Big


The Think Big Program of Big Brothers Big Sisters of Metropolitan Detroit provides high-risk youth who have experienced the Juvenile Justice System with “Bigs” (volunteer mentors). The one-to-one program focuses on positive youth development and school success, though the mentors are the ones who are thoroughly inspired by the youth they mentor.
Michigan Nightlight: In your view, what makes your program innovative, effective or remarkable? 
Big Brothers Big Sisters of Metropolitan Detroit President & CEO Dara Munson: Our ability to continuously build on 100 years of service and learning while adjusting to meet the needs of our individual children and the needs of the larger community. The effectiveness comes with the outcomes our one-to-one mentoring model yields.  We are able to track the life cycle of every mentoring relationship we create as well as implement field tested evaluations of each mentee to measure the academic, social and emotional changes they experience. Lastly, we celebrate an over 90 percent on-time graduation rate of our high school seniors each June.
 
What was the best lesson learned in the past year?
The best lesson learned was threefold—patience, perseverance and persistence. We have learned to be unrelenting and unapologetic in focusing on the goals of the agency and the children and families we serve.
 
What was the hardest lesson learned in the past year?
The majority of successes that prove to be worth the battle are achieved in marathon fashion. There were many goals set forth by the agency last year and a key lesson is to stick to it!  While the economy remains challenged, we have to remain unapologetic in our pursuit of excellence for the children that we serve. They do not want to hear that they can’t be matched with a mentor because the economy is impacting our work.
While the economy remains challenged, we have to remain unapologetic in our pursuit of excellence for the children that we serve. They do not want to hear that they canít be matched with a mentor because the economy is impacting our work.
As leaders in the sector, we have to remain steadfast in our efforts on a long-term basis. It is through that type of deliberate fortitude that our mentees can Think Big. We know that children sometimes find themselves in a position to make tough decision that are short-sighted and have long-lasting negative impacts on their lives. Because of the situations some youth in the juvenile justice system find themselves in, it takes time to build trust and create an enduring, impactful mentor/mentee relationship. 
 
What really differentiates this program?
Big Brothers Big Sisters rigorousness of volunteer training and orientation, sophistication in the use of technology to follow and track each mentor/mentee relationship, and the level of detail with which we serve each child. Our agency utilizes a database that follows each and every match in its entirety. We are able to pull and report very specific data on very specific populations and communities. The training we provide is based on evidence of what works for effective one-to-one mentoring models. Volunteers are trained on how to build and create enduring relationships with their mentees, as well as on how to guide them to and through life’s challenges and to and through high school successfully. 
 
The infrastructure of Big Brothers Big Sisters’ operation provides for extensive support to each mentoring relationship by professionally trained staff members who not only fully support each relationship, but also do evaluation and reporting based on that “match support.” It is a very detailed, deliberate approach to mentoring as a strategy for better educational outcomes and avoidance of risky behavior – not merely a service.
 
However, what really differentiates this program is that it was designed by the young people who are the participants. 
what really differentiates this program is that it was designed by the young people who are the participants.†
They told us very clearly what they wanted AND needed in order for them to be fully engaged in the program. We then designed it based on their wishes-and they are “all in!”
 
What are the keys to success for your program?
Success lies in creating a team of support for each child. The team consists of their mentor, parent or caregiver, agency and donor. The four entities of this team create a foundation for success for each mentee—we take this very seriously.
 
What are people in your program most inspired by?
People are most inspired by the change that is created when you expose a young person to things they would not otherwise be exposed to. The vast majority of our mentors are thoroughly inspired by their mentees. We have seen mentees who grow up and go into the field their mentor was in. We have also seen mentees who were in their mentor’s weddings and when they became adults, they had their mentors stand up for them in their weddings – having seen and benefitted from positive, loving relationships. Mentors tell us they learn a lot about themselves in the process of their developing relationship with their mentees. It is powerful, impactful and meaningful all at the same time! Ultimately, people are inspired by the fact that they can make such a huge impact on another human being and that their lives are changed in the process.
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