Creating Bigger Futures for Youth
Students don’t stop needing mentoring the moment they graduate from high school. Especially youth who have faced challenges simply to get through school, much less tackle the job market, post-secondary education, or even enlistment in the military.
Thus, Big Brothers Big Sisters of Central Texas’ Big Futures program was created. Big Futures is a BBBS initiative that is designed to help youth transition to life after high school, whether that be job readiness, enlistment in the military or adapting to college life. Before the Big Futures program was established, BBBS matches officially ended when Littles graduated from high school.
“The goal of Big Futures is that all young people mentored by BBBS of Central Texas will be prepared to obtain a living-wage job, and ultimately self-sustenance, by age 25,” said Brent Fields, CEO. “We will accomplish this by providing on-going support to matches toward Enrollment (post-secondary education), Employment (career readiness), or Enlistment (military service).”
Since its beginning in 2016, Big Futures has helped more than 100 matches, offering opportunities and benefits for Littles. “They don’t teach financial literacy in high school,” said Christina Eisenlord, Big Futures Coordinator, “or how to be prepared to take notes and study in college, or how to prepare a resume to apply for a job.”
Many of BBBS’ mentees will be the first in their families to attend college. Helping them navigate the intricacies of college applications and applying for scholarships is something that can play a huge role in determining their success at the next level. “It’s about finding out what their needs are, and helping to meet those needs,” said Christina.
While BBBS is not an expert in career readiness or strategies for post-secondary education, the agency can play a key role in providing resources and building partnerships between students and experts in the community.
“One of the things I’m most excited about is that we just created a wonderful partnership with The Blue Collar Recruiter and Virtual Trade School (BCR),” said Christina. “We’ve been wanting to build a pathway to the trades for our mentees. BCR’s program offers skilled training for entry level jobs in the HVAC, plumbing or electrical fields, it is accessible and affordable, they offer mentoring for the students within the program, and they help with employment once the training is complete. They are providing three scholarships for BBBS mentees this year.”
In addition, Big Futures has been offering workplace readiness workshops provided by X Factor Consultants. The workshops provide training on skills assessment, job searching, resume building and interview techniques. “Skill building is so important for these students who have not had access to such training before,” said Christina. “We plan to offer this workshop annually.”
This year, due to COVID, Christina is focused on helping mentees handle the uncertainties of life during the pandemic. “The biggest impact from COVID has been on our older students’ abilities to start their post-secondary education,” said Christina. “or to start on a career path without in-person assistance. When you’re new to the college game, it’s that much harder to acclimate to college life.”
“Another impact from COVID is that everything is now online and virtual, and some of our mentees don’t have access to technology, laptops or consistent access to WI-FI. That’s a huge barrier for them. Without these resources, there is no way they can navigate learning in an online environment.”
Christina’s goals for the Big Futures program include building additional partnerships with local businesses and securing donations to help mentees even more. “We had a generous donor a couple of years ago who donated some Microsoft Surface laptops,” said Christina. “And those have certainly been beneficial for our mentees. One of my goals for next year is to secure funding for even more laptops.”
“I’m also trying to secure a new partnership with a bank to provide financial literacy training for our mentees and even our high school Littles,” said Christina. “It is going to be really beneficial. The bank will offer one-on-one consultations for any of our students who need financial help and education.”
In addition, Christina is working to establish a relationship with an organization that will be able to offer mental health support and skills training. She is trying to secure funding for programs that would offer social and emotional learning, and college readiness for students.
“Big Futures is about more than just providing training and supplying tools. It’s about providing compassion. This has been a crazy year and students need to know it’s okay to put some things ‘on hold’ if they need to,” said Christina. “As hard as things may be right now, I hope that this program provides that motivation, that structure, and that focus that helps our students achieve their dreams. I want them to know that our whole agency is behind them, supports them, and wants to see them achieve their full potential.”