Author: Erin Concepcion
Editor: A. Hannah Spadafora
My name is Erin Concepcion, and I am Alumni Big Sister. Just over ten years ago, I joined Big Brothers Big Sisters, an organization which pairs adult mentors aged 21 years old and older with kids across the country in a mentorship or ‘sister’/’brother’ role. Big Brothers Big Sisters of America started out in 1904 with its founder Ernest Coulter, a lawyer, who wanted to provide mentoring services to youth in low income communities[i]. The Big Brothers Big Sisters present day organization has now become one of the largest and oldest mentoring youth organizations in the United States, from all walks of life. Volunteers defend the potential for the next generation (as the site says). To this end, benefits related to mentoring our youth are proven in success statistics: in the Atlanta chapter I joined, 97% of student participants are promoted up a grade level; 88% graduate on time; and 97% avoid the juvenile justice system[ii]. Those numbers mean a lot in our books—and in the lives of students and volunteers, it makes a difference.
I was introduced to Big Brothers, Big Sisters in late 2008 by a college friend who suggested I should become a mentor. I was a young college student myself, about to transfer to Reinhardt University (formerly Reinhardt College, until 2009) to continue my Bachelor of Arts in Organizational Management and Leadership. It caught my eye due to the one to one mentorship. I was a bit skeptical, yet I signed up anyway after I investigated it, compared it to other non-profit organizations, and was most intrigued by the Big Brothers Big Sisters program.
I’m glad I did, as I never would be where I am today if I didn’t sign up to become a mentor with them, and it’s been quite a rewarding title to fulfill. By 2009, I had my first formal interview and was just waiting on my ‘little sister’. I waited a few months, and I was finally matched with a girl named Ayanna. I was new to this whole one-to-one mentorship thing. It was a learning process. We mentor these kids by hanging out with them--eating lunch together, playing basketball, going to the library, or just going to the park to talk. Ayanna taught me things about life beyond that what I was learning about in college at the time, as well as more about time management. I was very focused on my studies, yet I’m glad I still made a point to see my little ‘sister.’ I was matched with her for about 2 years, during which we spent time at the park, the pet store, and other hang out spots of the sort. I was sad when our relationship ended, but I was asked soon after if I wanted to be matched again with another little sister.
I gave it another try. By 2012, I was matched with my new little sister, Ruby. I continued to participate in the Big Brothers Big Sisters program with the hope that she’d bring the best out of me. There was a language barrier in communicating with her parents; her family is from Mexico and spoke mostly Spanish, but we really made it work. In the beginning, she was quiet for a while, yet so was I. In the months and years of getting to know each other, though, Ruby became the best thing that ever happened to me. I felt more connected to her in ways that I couldn’t imagine or explain before. During the time that we were matched, we attended multiple fundraising and black-tie events such as the Legacy Gala that is held at the St. Regis Atlanta, and the Bowl for Kids’ Sake event held that year in a nearby bowling alley in Marietta, Georgia. As adventurous as Ruby was, she loved experiencing new things, such as trying something new for lunch. She absolutely loved coming over to have sleepovers, as well. We also made countless trips to the mall and the park, just to talk and hang out. Now, I am the family’s extended family; Ruby’s parents are my parents too. We still talk to each other every week and try to catch up as much as we can over dinner. Ruby was--and still is--the light of my eye.
Ruby and I have both graduated from the program, and just over 10 years later, I am still active in the program as part of the alumni committee. I now help with recruitment, attend events to tell our amazing story, and listen to countless other volunteer stories. Every now and then, I get asked if I want to be matched again, but I can never give an answer because of how emotionally attached I am to Ruby. Although I have her blessing to be matched again, I don’t know yet if I can do it--only time will tell. There’s more to the stories I tell, and I’m sure if I did it again, it would still be a learning process. For the present, our story is always my favorite story to tell at events, and I’m satisfied guiding all new mentors by telling my story. I do what I do to stay involved.
Big Brothers Big Sisters of Metro Atlanta has been around for many decades, has hundreds of mentors, and is connected to multiple active chapters across each state in the United States. At Big Brothers, Big Sisters, mentors get the full support of your match by your match specialist, the whole organization, and most of all, from all the matches--that includes the little ‘brothers and sisters.’ We all help and guide another. Every match is different, yet every match has a story behind it--that of one to one mentorship that really makes a difference. We all are one big family, and we regularly get together at both formal and mingling events to tell each other stories and hear each other out, allowing us to learn from other mentors and gain more ideas for big-sibling, little sibling activities. Hearing stories about other matches is what the learning process is about, and it is one of the most fulfilling parts of participation.
Be a mentor. Become a mentor. It makes the biggest difference.
Find more information on Big Brothers Big Sisters here > https://www.bbbs.org/
Find your local Big Brothers Big Sisters office here > https://aim.bbbs.org/einquiry/einquiryzip.aspx?t=0
Erin Concepcion is a corporate employee at UPS and a part time associate at Kroger, as well as an on-again, off-again volunteer, mentor, and alumni member for Big Brothers Big Sisters of Metro Atlanta. She is originally from the Washington, DC area, but has lived in the Atlanta area for over 17 years—with short breaks taken to visit family in the Philippines. Hobbies include photography, traveling the world, and exploring the unknown. Her current feature contribution to The Conscious World is titled: “Being a Big Sister, Mentoring a Little Sister: The Rewards of Volunteering with Big Brothers Big Sisters of Metro Atlanta.”