In 2020, the pandemic forced almost every business and organization to change the way they operated. For many, it was simply too much to overcome.
But for Big Brothers Big Sisters of Central Minnesota, the mission was too important to be upended. Instead of succumbing to the "new normal" COVID-19 created, the local agency of Big Brothers Big Sisters found ways to adapt in order to continue serving youth in Central Minnesota.
"We found unique ways to connect during the pandemic," said Emily Steinmetz, Advancement Director for BBBS of Central Minnesota. "Some agencies had to close temporarily or permanently, but we never had to do that."
In fact, Steinmetz and her team have found some of their adaptations to be applicable to the post-pandemic world.
"We found alternate ways to have matches meet with each other, and some of those ways have stuck around," she said. "We used to close a match if a high school mentor graduated and went off to college, but we have more options now and potentially can keep that match open. They can meet in person a couple times a year and through Zoom other times.
"It really has expanded our ways of reaching out to kids in a really good way. It’s grown and changed a lot."
Big Brothers Big Sisters of Central Minnesota was founded in 1969 on the belief that every child has the potential to succeed and thrive. The agency professionally matches youths between the ages of 5 and 21 with volunteer mentors across five Central Minnesota counties: Benton, Morrison, Sherburne, Stearns, and Wright.
The agency carries out the mission and values of the parent Big Brothers Big Sisters organization with even more focus and attention on individual connections, Steinmetz said.
"I think what really differentiates us is our one-on-one mentoring relationship," she said. "Some organizations have groups of kids paired with mentors, but ours is truly one-on-one. We only serve one kid at a time."
The results of BBBS of Central Minnesota's work have been palpable.
Forty-three percent of youths working with the agency improved or maintained their grades; 90 percent improved or maintained their attitudes toward risky behaviors; and 83 percent improved or maintained their parental trust.
Steinmetz said it's no secret why the agency makes such a positive impact.
"It's that one-on-one, we're in your corner," defending the kids," she said. "That's what makes the difference for us."
But it's not just the youths who work with Big Brothers Big Sisters of Central Minnesota who benefit from the agency's programs.
"All people need relationships," Steinmetz said. "Our mission strives to make sure that everyone's got someone who's consistent in their life, to support them, to expose them to new opportunities, to encourage them. That's not something that's going away — from the beginning of time until the end of time we all need each other.
"It's healthy for us as adults to give back. It's good for our own mental health and our own sense of wellbeing to get involved in our community and get involved with a young person. It's also good for our economy — we have healthier employees, we have stronger businesses, their employees feel happy, and retention is better. So getting involved and helping one another really is good for the entire community."
Big Brothers Big Sisters of Central Minnesota would not exist without committed volunteers and mentors, who are the lifeblood of the agency and its mission. Steinmetz said the agency is always working to bring in more volunteers and mentors. Those interested can visit the BBBS of Central Minnesota website for more information and resources on becoming a "Big," as mentors are called, and to begin the application process.
Now is a particularly important time for Big Brothers Big Sisters of Central Minnesota as the agency is growing. Last year, the agency received a $1.5 million gift from Mackenzie Scott, its largest-ever contribution from a single donor. That has propelled BBBS of Central Minnesota to launch partnerships in new communities and reach even more youths. The agency plans to expand further into new communities over the next five years, and expand its Bigs On Campus program, which takes youths to local colleges to explore campus, attend events, participate in recreational activities, tour academic departments, and more.
"It's an exciting time for us," Steinmetz said. "Growth is happening."
At Spave, we're proud to support Big Brothers Big Sisters of Central Minnesota in its mission to help youths in its community to succeed and thrive. Together, we are working to amplify the agency's reach, increase its sponsorship, and help it impact even more lives.
We invite you to join us in supporting Big Brothers Big Sisters of Central Minnesota. You can set up automatic, recurring donations and/or make one-time contributions to the agency through the Spave app.