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The Critical Need for ‘Big Brothers and Sisters’

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Senior Vice President Jamila Thomas | Image by BBBS

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Since 1904, Big Brothers Big Sisters (BBBS) has allowed adults to pour wisdom, confidence, and encouragement into young people to help them recognize their true potential. There is a great need for more adult volunteers, or “Bigs,” as Dallas currently has 450 children, or “Littles,” waiting for their perfect match.

For Jamila Thomas, the senior vice president of Corporate And Community Engagement, working with Big Brothers Big Sisters is a relatively new journey. Thomas, who joined BBBS in 2019, has a role that allows her to connect with Bigs, Littles, and the community. She finds it empowering to connect with Bigs who want to serve children, see them directly develop, and form lasting relationships.

Thomas’ responsibilities include making sure BBBS’s corporate partners reach their philanthropic goals and vision, but the most rewarding part of Thomas’ job is seeing community partners do the “heart work.”

“It’s always interesting to find ways in which we [can] do things better together. … It shows the power of connectivity and humanity,” she says.

One volunteer, Jennifer Ganly, dedicates her time to her Little, Amareus (whose last name is omitted because he is minor). She has been Amareus’ Big Sister for 9 years, starting when he was 8 years old.

Ganly told The Dallas Express that her introduction to BBBS came when her boss mentioned he was going to hang out with his “little brother.” After further discussion, Ganly learned her boss was volunteering with BBBS.

Three weeks later, Ganly encountered a BBBS booth at her office, where she signed up and committed to working with her Little.

For her dedicated work with BBBS, Ganly was presented with the Big of the Year Award for North Texas. Bigs who receive the award represent BBBS’s values, honoring their commitment to the organization and, more importantly, to their Little.

Hundreds of children are looking for a mentor like Ganly to help them through the ups and downs of life. What sets BBBS apart is that Littles must commit to a relationship with their Big, regardless of a parent’s insistence on their child’s participation. This two-way commitment ensures that the Little and Big each have a voice.

Thomas says there are not enough volunteers available to meet the demand of parents requesting mentors for their children.

“We’re constantly looking for volunteers, particularly men and men of color,” emphasizes Thomas. “The majority of children on our waitlist are young boys and young boys of color.”

While there is a significant need for male Bigs, for the first time in Big Brothers’ 116-year history, there is representation for many Littles in BBBS’ first African American CEO, Artis Stevens.

Elected in 2020, Stevens comes from two generations of preachers, yet he decided not to go into the pulpit; instead, he dedicates his efforts to one of the world’s most vulnerable groups, the youth.

“His philosophy [is] that all children, no matter the race, deserve to know someone in their life that is serving them well,” explains Thomas. “Here in Dallas, I believe we are the epitome of … a diverse society. So our children are 90% black and brown, and approximately 60% of Bigs are caucasian. There’s something beautiful about this connectivity when we can bring people of all races and creeds together and create a symbiotic relationship where everybody has a voice.”

BBBS is just as rewarding for Bigs as Littles.

Ganly explains, “Amareus is my Little [and he] inspires me because I’ve watched him grow. I’ve also seen the [adversity] that he faces daily.”

In one instance, Amareus told her there was allegedly an active shooter at his school, which was why he did not return her text right away.

“I started to take a deep breath because I never had to deal with that. … Despite all of [that stuff], Amareus still gets up and [faces] the day. I can’t wait to see what the future brings for him because he will be able to make something of himself despite all the hurdles,” says Ganly.

According to Thomas, the hurdles Bigs have overcome in their own lives can also be stepping stones to healing for a Little.

“I remember thinking as I went through [the interview process], ‘Wow, this is invasive but necessary.’ My Little ended up losing her mom at 16. Who better [to pair with] than a person that lost a father at 16?” she says.

While volunteering is a significant commitment, being a Big Brother or Big Sister gives the Little a sense of consistency.

School-based programs, in-person and virtual meetings, and community gatherings allow Bigs and Littles to interact two to four times a month inside and outside school.

Once a Little reaches high school and has been with a Big for at least a year, they graduate to the Mentor 2.0 program. The online platform allows mentors to text Littles about career development, vocational skills, and goal setting. Once they graduate, a 2-year post-secondary program is available to help Littles navigate their new world, college career, and entrepreneurial endeavors.

As Big Brothers Big Sisters continues its legacy of building lasting relationships through mentoring, there is hope that people will continue to answer the call to do the “heart work” through BBBS for another century.

We welcome and appreciate comments on The Dallas Express as part of a healthy dialogue. We do ask that you be kind. Kind to each other and to everyone else in your comments. For more information, please refer to our Complete Comment Moderation Policy.

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Terri Cook
Terri Cook
7 months ago

I’m interested in volunteering. Who do I contact?

Monique Harper
Monique Harper
7 months ago

I would love to be apart of sick great Organization!!! Sign me up

7 months ago

We’re do I sign up