Building Big Futures

 

Building the skills to achieve success in life doesn’t stop when students graduate from high school. In many ways it is just beginning as students grapple with living on their own, seeking employment, or wading through the paperwork associated with a post-secondary education. This is where Big Brothers Big Sisters’ Big Futures program comes in. The program provides practical resources, learning opportunities, and support for mentees ages 18+ as they move out into the world on their own.

BBBS’ Big Futures program was created to help mentees navigate the transition to young adulthood. The program’s overall goal is to ensure that all young people mentored by BBBS of Central Texas are prepared to obtain a living-wage job, and self-sustenance, by age 25. The agency works to accomplish this by providing on-going support to mentees as they pursue Enrollment (post-secondary education), Employment (career readiness), or Enlistment (military service).

The program officially began in 2016 with 20 matches. Today, the number of matches participating has grown to 123, or 80% of those who are eligible.

Coming out of the pandemic, Big Futures is now looking to provide a new type of support for BBBS mentees by implementing a national program called Hangouts. Developed by SID Centers, Inc., and available in locations across the United States, Hangouts was created to provide young adults with a social community where they can build life and career skills, increase their knowledge of financial literacy, and get support for their physical and mental health.

“SID Centers is new to Austin,” said Christina Eisenlord, BBBS’ Big Futures Coordinator. “The SID Centers CEO and I thought Hangouts would be a great way to build a sense of community and social connection between BBBS’ and SID’s mentees.”

“We’re trying to create a social support system for these young adults,” said Christina, “a place for mentees who may be struggling with the same things to share experiences and perspectives while building connections and networking with community leaders, which is so important when you’re entering your adult years.”

Hangouts will provide participants with opportunities to learn from panelists, experts, and teachers, as well as dedicated time for entertainment and fun. “In addition to learning new skills, mentees will have the chance to just kick back and chill. Young adults have a lot going on, so having balance is really important,” said Christina. “Ideally, Hangouts will be regular, recurring events.”

The program is currently in development, and, once offered, BBBS and SID Centers staff know that it will take time for participation to build. “We’re going to continue developing program elements to find the right fit for the young adults in our community,” said Christina. “At the end of the day, we want this new initiative to provide as much benefit, opportunity, and connection for our mentees as possible.”

Creating and launching Hangouts is not the only focus of the Big Futures program. Big Futures has an ongoing need for program partners and partnerships. “We rely heavily on partnerships to provide support for our mentees’ needs,” said Christina.

“I connect mentees with whatever resources I can” she said, “but I really want to grow relationships with partners who can offer them priority for interviewing and employment, provide educational scholarships, donate laptops or tech-related devices on a regular basis, or provide anything that will give them a leg up on opportunities.”

Transportation is another area where there is a huge need. It can be a challenge for Big Futures mentees simply to get their driver’s licenses. “Having a partnership with a driving school would help our mentees address a significant barrier to success,” said Christina. “Even having someone who is willing to volunteer to help them practice driving and get comfortable behind the wheel would make a significant difference. Not being able to practice driving makes it much harder for our mentees to get their licenses and take the next steps in managing their own transportation. And not having transportation is a significant hurdle when our mentees are seeking employment.”

Facing obstacles like these creates emotional struggles for students heading out on their own. This is another area that Christina is concerned about. “There are really very few resources for mental health counseling for young adults, especially those with limited resources,” said Christina. “Having counselors who could work pro-bono or for a low fee would be a huge help. There is a great need for this type of service in my caseload.”

Whatever the need, in whatever areas these young adults need support, Christina and the Big Futures program are there to help them take on the obstacles in their paths. “Our older mentees are heading out to tackle this mountain of life, and that’s when it gets real,” said Christina. “And, as a program, we work to walk alongside them as they navigate the process of becoming adults.”

To learn more about becoming a Big Futures partner, please contact Christina Eisenlord at ceisenlord@bigmentoring.org.

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