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Small Business Spotlight - January 2024: Big Brothers Big Sisters of the Ozarks

Company name: Big Brothers Big Sisters of the Ozarks
Person in charge: Susan Mellentine,CEO
Year founded: 1983

Tell us about the history of your business:
Established in 1983, Big Brothers Big Sisters of the Ozarks (BBBSO) proudly began its mission in Springfield, Missouri. With a rich history spanning 40 years, our focus has remained on reshaping the perspectives of young minds and providing them with opportunities to unlock their full potential.

BBBSO operates as an affiliate agency under the umbrella of the esteemed national office, Big Brothers Big Sisters of America. The roots of this impactful movement can be traced back to 1904 when Ernest Coulter, a forward-thinking court clerk in New York City, observed an increasing number of boys passing through his courtroom. Recognizing the potential for positive influence, Coulter initiated the Big Brothers movement, underscoring the pivotal role caring adults could play in steering these young individuals away from challenges.

Simultaneously, the Ladies of Charity, an altruistic group, were extending support to girls navigating the complexities of the New York Children’s Court. This compassionate initiative would later evolve into the distinguished Catholic Big Sisters.

A key moment in our history occurred in 1977 when the Big Brothers Association and Big Sisters International merged forces, culminating in the formation of the unified entity we now know as Big Brothers Big Sisters of America. United in purpose, there are currently over 250 agencies across all 50 states, diligently upholding our founders' vision by introducing caring role models into the lives of children.

Describe the services your organization provides and what makes you unique:

Big Brothers Big Sisters has operated under the belief that inherent in every child is incredible potential. As the nation’s largest donor- and volunteer-supported mentoring network, Big Brothers Big Sisters makes meaningful, monitored matches between adult volunteers ("Bigs") and children ("Littles"), ages 6 through young adulthood in communities across the country. Our one-to-one mentoring relationships support the critical social and emotional development needed to help build resilience and promote the mental health and well-being of the youth we serve across the Ozarks. Our youth need encouragement, consistency, and support, which we are committed to providing to them.

We currently offer two youth mentoring programs:

  • Lunch Buddy program caters to elementary students in grades 1-5, providing them with the attention and encouragement meeting weekly during their lunch time. These matches unfold over jokes, card games, and eating together often in the library or quiet space at the school, offering a supportive environment away from the bustling lunchroom.
  • Community-Based program pairs adult volunteers ("Bigs") with children ("Littles") aged 6-18, fostering connections that spend an average of six to eight hours together each month. Engaging in shared activities such as dining out, playing sports, attending movies, exploring new places, cooking – just simply spending quality time together - these matches provide the foundation for meaningful growth. Through these everyday experiences, children benefit from the presence of a caring and consistent adult mentor in their lives.

The professional staff at Big Brothers Big Sisters of the Ozarks meticulously curate and support each match, adhering to the highest standards. We aim for matches that are not only safe and tailored to each child's unique needs but also enduring and built for lasting impact. We transcend the role of mere matchmakers, offering ongoing support and supervision to both Bigs and Littles, as well as their families. Our comprehensive training and support initiatives ensure the success and safety of all involved parties.

Big Brothers Big Sisters of the Ozarks prides itself in providing preventative mentoring services which directly invest in breaking the cycle of poverty and improving communities. By partnering with parents/guardians, volunteers, and others in the community we are accountable for each child in our program in achieving higher aspirations, greater confidence, and better relationships, avoidance of risky behaviors and educational success.

Big Brothers Big Sisters of the Ozarks takes pride in its role as a provider of preventative mentoring services, directly investing in breaking the cycle of poverty and enhancing communities. Our mission is clear: to establish and support one-to-one mentoring relationships that kindle the power and promise within youth. As an agency, our vision is for every young person to realize their full potential. We steadfastly believe that every youth in our community possesses untapped potential, and by having an advocate, mentor, friend, or even someone to share a weekly lunch, we can ignite that potential and pave the way for a brighter future.

Tell us something people might not know about your organization:

  • Even though we are affiliated with our National Office, we run our agency independently. All the money raised by our agency stays here to fund our local programs.
  • Our families and volunteers do not pay to participate in Big Brothers Big Sisters program.
  • We serve 18 counties in southwest Missouri but have specifically focused on expanding our services to Bolivar and Branson areas over the last year.

What is the biggest challenge facing your organization now, and how are you working to overcome that challenge?
The need for volunteers will always be our priority at BBBSO. We are always on the lookout for amazing individuals to volunteer as Bigs and Lunch Buddies. We have a waitlist and there is a constant stream of kids waiting for "their person" – someone who can be both a friend and mentor. While it is our mission to match and support all children that want a mentor, it is our biggest challenge to find volunteers for all the children that want one.

Let's break down the misconception that being perfect or having it all figured out is a must for being a mentor. It’s all about being a consistent, caring companion. In line with the timeless saying, "it takes a village," our children thrive when surrounded by support. We invite everyone in our community to explore the fulfilling experience of becoming a Big or Lunch Buddy. The truth is, even a small amount of time invested in your Little makes an enormous impact on their lives. For more information on how you can become a part of our Big Community, visit where it takes LITTLE to be BIG!

What is the best business advice you've ever been given?
"Always keep your receipts"

Series Sponsored by Connell Insurance
Series Sponsored by Connell Insurance
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