Courtesy of Big Brothers Big Sisters of New York City.

An intimate gathering of about 25 local residents at the Bronx Brewery marked the launch of the latest Big Brothers Big Sisters of NYC drive to enlist mentors from the Bronx community.

“Be Bronx, Be Big,” was the theme of the Oct. 18 event.

With over 900 youngsters citywide applying to have a mentor every year and more than 38% of them hailing from the Bronx, the program seeks to find more Bronx-based residents motivated to give back to their community.  

In Alicia Guevara’s eyes, there’s a real opportunity for folks to make a difference, challenge stereotypes, and do right by the children and their families. Guevara is the executive director at Big Brothers Big Sisters of NYC.

“I’m a Bronx native. The Bronx raised me and did a pretty good job at it, I would say,” she told the crowd. “I reject the notion that there aren’t committed, dedicated, qualified, compassionate adults in the Bronx; we’re committing to connecting with young people.”   

Currently, most of the youngsters from the Bronx are being matched with Manhattan-based mentors.  That’s not by choice but a necessity and, ultimately, a motivating factor in launching “Be Bronx, Be Big.”  

Mike Coughlin, a social worker and executive at Big Brothers Big Sisters of NYC, stated it simply:  “We’re trying to make sure that all of the kids in our program have access to nearby mentors from their communities, so they can see people they can connect with, who will be invested in their future.” 

Jayla Saunders spoke about her initial reluctance to join the program and how that feeling grew into a grateful appreciation. She did not understand what she had signed up for, but it didn’t take her long to go all in. 

On her first outing with Big Brothers Big Sisters, she told the assembled group, she went to the NBCU studios, crystalizing her dreams of working in media. Saunders wound up being part of an NBCU cohort program for three years. Now on track to finish her undergraduate degree in a CUNY Program, Saunders continues to work in marketing and communications, recognizing just how important the lessons she learned really are–and how they could help more people too.

“The program made me feel like I had a community of people.  The program helped me realize you can be more yourself,” she said. “You can be who you want to be, who you are.”  

Saunders urged everyone present to sign up as mentors: “A lot of kids from the Bronx don’t get the same opportunities as the kids in the other boroughs. Other boroughs have more opportunities.”

The numbers Big Brothers Big Sisters of NYC rolled out about outcomes suggest that Saunders’ experience is no anomaly. As of 2023, 98% of youngsters who participated in the program graduated from high school, compared to the 77% citywide graduation rate cited on NYC Open Data.

After 120 years, Big Brothers Big Sisters wants to continue expanding – its current wait in the Bronx list is at 125.

To learn more and sign up, head to Big Brothers Big Sisters of NYC’s website.

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