Big Sister Jordon Pinkerton, left, and Little Sister Michaela Lopez watch the Los Alamos Food Coop chef during a cooking event. Courtesy photo
Program Manager Kim Walker of Big Brothers Big Sisters for Los Alamos and Española, speaks with the Los Alamos Daily Post about the local program. Photo by Bonnie J. Gordon/ladailypost.com
By BONNIE J. GORDON
Los Alamos Daily Post
Program Manager Kim Walker of Big Brothers Big Sisters for Los Alamos and Espanola has been facilitating matches between mentors and kids for four years. She is a Licensed Clinical Social Worker.
“I like working with people who need some help,” she said. “I like being in a proactive position before issues start.”
Big Brothers Big Sisters began in 1904, when a young New York City court clerk was seeing more and more boys come through his courtroom, Walker said. He recognized that caring adults could help many of these kids stay out of trouble, and he set out to find volunteers. That marked the beginning of the Big Brothers movement.
At around the same time, the members of a group called Ladies of Charity were befriending girls who had come through the New York Children’s Court. That group would later become Catholic Big Sisters. Both groups continued to work independently until 1977, when they joined forces to became Big Brothers Big Sisters of America. Women are matched with girls and men with boys.
Considering that New Mexico ranks next to last in the nation in child wellbeing, the “Big” program is especially needed, she said. The results can be life changing. For example, 90 percent of “Littles” do better in school and 91 percent see improvement in their self-image, according to the group’s website.
Mentoring is one way to help create a safe, supportive, and positive developmental eco-system that gives youth space to cope and grow,” Walker said.
Mentors work alongside parents as role models, she said.
“We work with many wonderful parents who just need support for their kids,” Walker said. “Mentors reassure children that there is someone outside of family who cares about them. Studies suggest that one in three young people will grow up without a positive adult mentor, and the relationship deficit is growing.”
This past year alone, 20 percent of the young people served by Big Brothers Big Sisters reported losing contact with an important adult in their life, she said.
“We have mentors ranging from young adults to people in their 80s,” Walker said. “We’ve been getting a lot of younger mentors recently. We work very hard to make good matches. We talk over their preferences with both the youngster and the mentor. You get a feel for who will click.”
The program was set back by COVID, but its recovering, Walker said. Currently, there are 47 clients in Los Alamos and 24 in the Espanola Valley. The average age is 8 to 9 years. More girls than boys are currently waiting to be matched.
“The average match lasts two years, but some last as long as seven years,” she said. “Mentors make a year commitment. Traditionally, Bigs and Littles spend four to six hours a month together, but that varies a lot.”
Some matches are “lunch buddies” who have lunch together at school once a week. Other matches play a sport together or go hiking. It all depends on their shared interests. The program arranges group activities including hikes, visits to the park, fishing, scavenger hunts, picnics, and more. A number of events are planned for this summer, Walker said.
The process begins with interviews of both the volunteer and the child, as well as the child’s guardians. After a background check, the mentor is approached with a match. Only then, is the child approached with a possible match, Walker said. If the child wants to move forward, a meeting is arranged.
“Being a mentor is fun, rewarding, and easier than you think,” Walker said. “You don’t have to be perfect to make a difference. Just be you.”
Visit bbbsmountainregion.org to learn more and to sign up to become a mentor.