Making Great Matches: Our Process
At Big Brothers Big Sisters (BBBS), a “match” refers to the pairing of a Big (mentor) with a Little (child). One of the most common things we hear from our matches is that they feel that they were perfectly paired. How does that happen?
In order to achieve that perfect match, BBBS’ match specialists spend a lot of time with potential Bigs and with potential Littles and their parents. In addition to reviewing child safety precautions, the specialists talk about a number of different subjects during the interview process. “We really want to know what everybody brings to the table and what that child wants and needs,” said Ellen Harsh, BBBS enrollment supervisor.
The process goes from initial interviews with all parties involved, to training, being approved for a match, having face-to-face meetings with match specialists, and finally, to being matched.
The most important factors in the match-making process are the preferences that a child and a parent have expressed regarding what they are looking for in a Big Brother or Sister, and also the preferences a Big has given about the kind of Little Brother or Sister he or she would like to have. BBBS’ staff aims to match Littles and Bigs who share common interests. “If I have a Big who is into kayaking and hiking, I’m not going to match them with a child who prefers playing video games and watching movies,” Ellen explained.
Matches are also organized by distance. The goal is to keep the driving distance between a Big and their Little to within 20 minutes, if possible.
Finally there’s the “X Factor,” that personality trait or life experience that comes through during the interview process that helps the match specialist determine the best possible fit for a Big and a Little.
“If a match happens quickly, that’s great, but it is not our first priority,” Ellen continued. “Our goal is a quality match.”
“If a child feels like they can connect with their Big, they’re much more likely to stick with the program, to enjoy their time together, to learn from their mentor, and to experience positive outcomes. We take a lot of different factors into account when we’re matching. Compatibility is huge.”
When you understand how matches are made and what makes them so successful, you begin to understand what makes BBBS so exceptional and why our program truly makes a lifetime of difference for the children and families we serve.
According to BBBS’ records, there are approximately 600 kids on the agency’s list waiting to be matched. There are also a number of volunteers who have signed up to be mentors. So what’s the holdup in the process?
“It really depends on having enough funding and staff,” said Ali Nichols, enrollment specialist. “We could make a million matches a month, but if the match doesn’t last past the first three months, it’s not good for the child or the volunteer. It’s actually worse for the child than not being matched at all.”
Consequently, making the right match is critical, and that requires time, a talented, professional staff, and dedicated resources. It costs approximately $1,250 to place and support a child in a mentoring relationship for a year.
Getting it right is well worth the time and investment. Ninety-eight percent of the children who participate in BBBS’ program maintain or improve their grades, 99% avoid early parenting, and 79% plan to pursue higher education – numbers that are far higher than the national averages for their peers.
Statistics, however, don’t tell the whole story, as one of our newest Little Brothers, Ja’Marion, knows. It is hard, after all, to quantify joy.
When they were recently introduced, Ja’Marion thought he was getting a real big brother to move in and live with him. His grandmother and his new Big Brother, Ernest, had to clarify that this was not the case!
This news didn’t dampen Ja’Marion’s excitement one bit. He happily went on to share his wall of honors with Ernest, explaining each honor roll and academic medal his grandmother has displayed. “I am honored to have a Little Brother that I can be so proud of already,” Ernest replied, “and I know that you will keep on making me proud.”
It is our privilege to help Bigs and Littles like Ernest and Ja’Marion begin their journey together. Theirs is, truly, the journey of a lifetime.