Big Brothers Big Sisters of Massachusetts Bay, Boston College and Boston Housing Authority: a critical partnership and its impact

This guest post is written by Terrence McCarron, senior manager of enrollment at Big Brothers Big Sisters of Massachusetts Bay (BBBSMB).

In an effort to serve more kids in Boston’s inner-city housing developments and create opportunities for more families to tap the resources of our agency, an innovative partnership was formed with Boston College and the Boston Housing Authority’s Franklin Field development in Dorchester -- and the ripple effect on our kids and the community continues to grow.  I’d like to share my answers to some common questions about getting a program like this off the ground and into action.

How was the partnership formed?
It all began with thoughtful conversation with our incredible partners in the community, supported by the resources of our organization.  Families from the Franklin Field area were demanding our services. Boston College students were looking for more meaningful ways to get involved in the community. BBBSMB decided to “match” these two communities to meet the needs of both.

We worked with parents, neighborhood leaders, school staff and kids, letting them help us conceive what the program should look like. After an initial cold-call to the Boston Housing Authority staff and the coordination of several meetings with the administration at the Boston College Volunteer Service Learning Center, the program began to take shape.

In our second year, we reached out to our sister affiliate and began serving girls in the area too.  All parties had an overlapping vision of a mentoring community that was a true collaboration incorporating the voices of everyone involved.

What has made it successful?
As the program evolved, we have been able to provide high-quality mentoring for 43 children in the Franklin Field area that might otherwise be on a waiting list for some other program. This is the most basic measure of our success and we continue to recognize very positive trends. For example, all 43 participants completed their pivotal first year together. A majority will complete a multi-year commitment. Retaining our families and volunteers is something we take very seriously. The last thing we want is another relationship to start and stop for a child.

Additionally, our communal events have focused on core youth development skills – I have personally seen the participants grow in their confidence, ability and willingness to try new things, their caring for one another and their ability to make healthy connections to their “Big Brothers” and “Big Sisters”.

How was it decided to run this as a site-based program on a community-based level?
The concept of providing a site-based program on a community-based level is supported by our investment to fully vet and train our volunteers so that those involved reap the benefits of a site-based program, including facilities, resources, access to leadership, and structured activities. There is also the flexibility to stretch and grow the relationship in the ways that a community-based mentoring relationship would. For example, many matches meet outside the scheduled events that we host and communicate weekly as a way to cover gaps, work around scheduling conflicts, and deepen their commitment to one another.

What are the goals for the future?
Our foremost goal for the future is to stay committed and loyal to the amazing families, volunteers, and kids that have become a part of our circle.  Our agency very much wants these mentoring relationships to be as stabilizing and powerful as they can be. The significant effort put forth in the communities of Franklin Field and Boston College is not lost on our staff. We feel a daily responsibility to do our part to enhance and support our “Bigs,” “Littles” and their wonderful families.

What do you recommend to other programs who would be interested in creating a similar partnership?
It works best when you have a high level of personal dedication from the right people. This program has been fortunate in its first few years to have ambitious leaders -- volunteers, parents, and staff from all sides of the table -- who offer up weekend time throughout the year to help this program tick. More than anything, you need fully invested people with high expectations that take the commitment to building better communities personally.

Research indicates that kids who take part in programs like Big Brothers Big Sisters show educational-related success, avoidance of risky behaviors and socio-emotional competency. I have witnessed first-hand the impact of the Franklin Field Program and know that working together with volunteers, donors and municipal agencies to be part of the solution is critical to stopping the cycle of violence and poverty in our communities.  Join us in our effort to serve more kids – volunteer today!

To find out more about our BBBSMB's programs or how to volunteer, visit bbbsmb.org or call 617-542-9090.