Landmark Education graduate Nikki Black has been part of a solution to a big problem. The non-profit group Big Brothers and Big Sisters of New York has long had a shortage of volunteers to mentor children; specifically, they have a shortage of men. Each child is matched with an approved mentoring adult of the same sex. There are enough women, but there is a waiting list of hundreds of boys for a male volunteer to be matched with. With over 85% of single parent homes headed by women in New York, Big Brothers and Big Sisters feels its especially important to have male role models.
Black volunteers as a Big Sister, and she heard about these problems at the same time she started Landmark Education’s Self-Expression and Leadership Program. She decided to use the program to make a difference in having male mentors in a big way.
“Every time you talk to a man about being a big brother, they say it sounds like a great idea,” says Black. “But then often nothing happens.”
Nikki decided that an event was needed that would give men a specific opportunity to sign up to volunteer. An event would also allow a much bigger difference to be made than just talking to one man at a time. Finally, Nikki realized that women are good at having men do things–What about having women bring men, or having men come to an event that they knew women would be at? Black vetted the men in advance, and made sure that those coming had some interest in being a Big Brother.
As Black says, the universe seemed to come together to make the event happen. The Moore Brothers Wine Company donated an incredible space where attendees could eat wine and cheese. A writer for the Wall Street Journal who was interested in the male/female volunteer gap called her out of the blue and asked to interview her at the event.
The event was a huge success. Women and men poured into the event (100 people RSVP’d for it). Veteran Big Brothers Big Sisters organizers were flabberghasted. “I have never seen this many men at an event for us–Guys just don’t come out like this!” confided Carmine Magazino, BBBS New York’s Managing Director, to Black during the event. In all, 20 new men stepped up to be big brothers, an extraordianary number at one event. BBBS of NY decided to run with Nikki’s project and make it a seasonal, four times a year event. A Latin offshoot of BBBS is also looking at similar events.
“I never would have taken this on had I not been in the Self-Expression and Leadership Program,” Black freely admits. Her training also came in handy when she had to get and speak to everyone at the event and urge the men to become Big Brothers. “I was able to just be with people and be myself and not be nervous,” she says, “and make powerful requests of the guys to take action now.”
“This whole experience made me realize how easy it can be to make a difference. People do care; they do want to help. We just gave them an opportunity.”
Go to Big Brothers Big Sisters to get involved.