Words by Abi Scaife
Everyone benefits from mentorship - whether that comes from an older sibling, a teacher, or someone in the community. Unfortunately, those relationships don’t always appear organically - and when young people are struggling either in school, or their daily lives, it might be time to go looking.
The Big Brothers and Big Sisters of Southwest Louisiana is a whole organisation dedicated to young people in the community, helping them to thrive on their journey to figuring out who they really are.
Smiley News had the privilege of talking to Erin Davison, MBA, CEO of Big Brothers and Big Sisters of Southwest Louisiana about the incredible things they’re doing to help kids in their community, and why their work is so important.
“Kids are balls of energy, and it's [about] tapping into their potential of how they can be the best versions of themselves,” says Erin. “Not the expectations that the world or families or teachers put on them. How can we provide resources for them to build their own expectation of who and where and how they can be in this world?”
The organisation is made up of ‘Bigs’ and ‘Littles’ - Bigs are volunteers committed to mentoring young people, aka the Littles. But what do bigs really do for their Littles?
“It's just time, and listening, and receiving and then helping,” says Erin. “That's the beautiful part of what we do - we're a village working together to wrap youth in positivity and love, but accountability as well.”
Once connected in a mentorship, the Big and Little meet a minimum of twice per month every month for a year. They might go to the library, the park, or out into nature - anything that helps create a bond between the pair, and encourages conversation.
This relationship helps to foster creativity, curiosity, and confidence, to build up the Little’s sense of self-worth. This is something that all young people need and deserve - no matter their background or situation in life. To that end, the Bigs reflect their Littles, too.
“We lead our JEDI values - Justice, Equity, Diversity and inclusion,” explains Erin. “And so when you walk into our building, or you meet us in public, we look like our community - and that is inviting to all youth and all families.”
The organisation is accepting of volunteers from all walks of life. While the Little’s safety is absolutely paramount, it’s also important for them to see those with varied life experiences reaching out and making a difference.
“We accept volunteers that have a criminal background … we have our youth safety guidelines, but we also understand that people that have pasts are not bad people,” says Erin. “They made decisions that may not [have been] the best at that moment. I have volunteers that have prison backgrounds, or DWIs, but there are parameters for safety.”
The Bigs aren’t replacing parents or guardians, or even other relatives - instead, they are becoming another part of the rich tapestry that is the village, helping to raise a child. BBBS of Southwest Louisiana are committed to meeting the Littles and their families where they are, and helping them to grow and thrive from there.
“When they come in they [the Littles] are angry or they don't think they need it … and so we just sit down with them. We're like, ‘Okay, let's just chat let's figure you out. Get to know me, I’ll get to know you.’,” explains Erin.
“Once they realize we're not the police, they're not in trouble they're like, ‘Okay, I can I can get involved in this. This is fine.' Kids want to be seen just like you and I want to be seen.”
On top of the standard mentorship relationships, there are a number of other programmes - in the community, in schools, and more. BBBS takes a wholly inclusive approach to caring for kids - especially those that might be struggling in school, in their home life, or with mental health issues.
“We have to allow room for failure. And we have to allow room for being uncomfortable because the only way we're going to get better is if we fail,” explains Erin. “So just sometimes it's like just let them fall because mentoring is letting them fall and then rebuilding it back up.”
“It's reframing the messaging and saying ‘you can do this - let's just figure the best way for you’.”
More than anything, BBBS is an organisation about nurturing - about changing the world for just a few people, and watching what happens. Children really are the future of our planet, and of our society, and through taking care of them, and brightening their world, you are changing our world for the better.
“As I've gotten older I've realized it's not necessarily [about] changing the world as a whole,” says Erin. “It's changing me, changing individuals, changing components of the world that snowball into other changes.”
At Smiley Movement, we like to elevate the work of charities across the world. Here are three charities whose causes align with the themes in this article.
Create. Create is the UK's leading charity empowering lives, reducing isolation and enhancing wellbeing through the creative arts. Support them here.
Save The Children UK. Save the Children is a UK charity for children that works in over 100 countries to make sure children are fed, learning and treated fairly. Learn more here.
Barnardo’s. This is a children's charity that protects and supports children and young people in the UK who need them. Find out more here.