• Mission • Programmes • ‘Think BIG’ • Youth Mentoring Forum
With nearly 30 years of service in the local community, Big Brothers Big Sisters of the Cayman Islands is looking to take a giant leap forward in 2021 with its ‘Think BIG’ campaign.
The mission of the nonprofit is to provide children facing adversity with strong and enduring, professionally supported, one-on-one relationships that change lives for better, forever.
The charity matches adults (Bigs) with children (Littles) to form mentoring relationships with weekly visits.
Through the ‘Think BIG’ campaign, the nonprofit aims to triple the number of children it serves to 100 by the end of the year.
Big Brothers Big Sisters of the Cayman Islands Chairperson Pilar Bush said, “We are serving children who are facing adversity. ‘Facing adversity’ is very different from children who are defined to be ‘at-risk’ by an agency or public policy.”
She said, “On the continuum, ‘adversity’ happens before ‘at-risk’, and we think that is an important distinction because children can go through adversity even if they are in an affluent household.”
Children facing adversity is a broader group than ‘at-risk’ children, and can include children in situations, for example, where someone in the family has a terminal illness or has died, where there has been a divorce, or where they experience emotional neglect at home or bullying at school.
“Adversity can happen to children who otherwise may look like they are thriving,” Bush said.
She said the ‘strong and enduring’ relationships between Bigs and Littles are important because “it can be quite a setback to child to have a mentoring relationship start and end quickly or abruptly”.
The adult mentors undergo an extensive screening and training process to make sure there is a good fit between the Big and the Little.
“At BBBS, this relationship needs to last at least a year. More often than not they last several years. In many cases they last a lifetime, even if the mentor and the mentee are not seeing each other on a weekly basis any more,” Bush said.
In addition, the adult mentors are ‘professionally supported’, meaning that after the mentoring begins, the adults have access to professionals to help them continue to support the children in the best way possible.
“The BBBS philosophy is clear – the mentors are there to be friend. Mentors are not stand in parents, teachers or disciplinarians. A mentor is a trusted friend,” Bush said.
“You are showing up just to be a friend, to be non-judgemental, to be a good listener, to have fun with, and to invest time in. There will be things that come up in the course of the relationship where the adult may not know how to handle it, or may want more help, and they don’t need to worry. Our professionally qualified staff will be there to help them,” she said.
Big Brothers Big Sisters has 2 mentoring programmes in Cayman. One is community-based where the Big and Little meet, typically on weekends, and the venue can vary. The second is a school-based programme where, typically through the afterschool programme, Bigs and Littles meet during the school year.
Bush points to international studies (link, link, link) on the efficacy of the Big Brothers Big Sisters mentoring programmes, which show that after 18 months of mentoring, children are more optimistic and display fewer at-risk factors.
Right now in Cayman, the charity focusses on public schools, with the most success occurring at Sir John A. Cumber and George Town primary schools.
“I want to recognise our volunteers. The programme doesn’t work without caring, committed adults sacrificing their time every week,” Bush said.
“We are nothing without the mentors, the people who are willing to do this work on a weekly basis.”
There are 4 ways to get involved with Big Brothers Big Sisters: 1) Become a mentor, 2) Become a support volunteer (a variety of roles are available and needed), 3) Donate to the charity, 4) Refer others to become involved in the programme.
Background, ‘Think BIG’
Big Brothers Big Sisters was formed in Cayman by Pastor Stanwyck Myles in the early 1990s. With the Lions Club of Grand Cayman acting as the patron organisation, Big Brothers Big Sisters of the Cayman Islands was formally incorporated in 1995. A Lions member maintains a presence on the Big Brothers Big Sisters board of directors.
Bush first became involved with Big Brothers Big Sisters when then-chairperson Margaret Ramsay-Hale asked her to help fundraise for the organisation. Later, Mitch Ebanks of Lions asked Bush to take over the chair position from Tony Ritch. She accepted and has led the Board since January 2013.
In addition to increasing the number of children served, the charity aims to increase support for its volunteers with regular workshops and networking opportunities, and to enrich the lives of its Littles with group activities, enrichment activities like sports, the arts and learning support. To do this, the 11-member Board decided last summer to raise the charity’s profile in the community.
“For a long time the Board was not comfortable raising Big Brothers Big Sisters’ profile because the organization had workflow challenges directly related to insufficient staff and limited tools and technology,” Bush said. “We were constrained and couldn’t scale our operations without an investment.”
“A number of local companies and organisations like R3 have come on board to support the planned expansion, and they have our full commitment to provide them with measurable and transparent progress reporting to show them where the funds are going,” she said.
For example, in order to deliver quality services to 100 children, the group needed to increase the size of its staff.
Accordingly, as of 1 March, the staff expands from a team of one to a team of three. Angela Martins, retired Chief Officer and former head of the Department of Children and Family Services, takes up the role of Executive Director, and Erin Kaufman (nee Hislop, formerly of the Family Resource Unit and CUC) will join longtime staff member Angela Sealy at Big Brothers Big Sisters.
Through the initiative, the charity is also looking to improve its use of technology and data collection.
“To be able to scale, we need to have data at our fingertips. We want to understand the demographic and psychographic profile of the children in our programs, and use the data to advocate for children across the island, contributing to or leading national conversations, and not simply looking inward at our own individual clients,” Bush said.
The nonprofit is also looking to partner with other organisations, e.g. Acts of Random Kindness ARK and the Alex Panton Foundation to form a ‘system of solutions’ to support families, rather than having different groups depart from their core missions to assist people in ad hoc ways which can lead to duplication and inefficiency.
Youth Mentoring Forum
As part of Think BIG, Big Brothers Big Sisters is hosting a Youth Mentoring Forum on Saturday, 6 March.
“We want to facilitate a conversation about what we’ve learned from COVID — the good, bad and ugly — and what role mentoring can play,” Bush said.
For example, one thing that became apparent during the pandemic is gaps in data collection.
“I think it surprised a lot of people in youth-serving organisations that we didn’t have up to date or easily searchable data sets which would have helped us prepare faster and better responses to the different types of challenges facing children and teens during lockdown and afterwards.” Bush said.
“The Youth Forum will give us an opportunity to discuss the lessons learned and anticipate the needs of children and adolescents in other types of disasters. For example, how do we prepare children and adolescents for a hurricane, and what do we have to have in place to support them after the hurricane. What have we learned from this, and how do we apply it so that the community can be more resilient in serving children the next time around?” she said.
Sponsored by the R3 Cayman Foundation, the Youth Mentoring Forum is intended to be a smaller conversation, focussed on people working in youth services.
“We will have maybe 5 or 6 people on a panel, and maybe 25 people in the audience. We’re going to video it and post it online, and we want it to become an asset that will be useful going forward for organisations involved with children, or even parents,” Bush said.
A month into the Think Big campaign, which started with 34 matches, BBBS is on its way to having 45 matches by the end of March and new volunteers are signing up each month.
To learn how you can get involved, please contact Erin Kaufman at firstname.lastname@example.org.