Commentary: Big Brothers Big Sisters mentors on, seeks support

By Tom Thunstrom

For nearly 60 years, Big Brothers Big Sisters of Delaware (BBBS) has served thousands of kids. As part of Big Brothers Big Sisters of America, we are blessed with our federation’s 100-year legacy of helping ignite the power and promise of youth. We achieve this by developing one-to-one mentoring relationships between adults (Bigs) and children ages 7 to 17 (Littles). We currently have programs in all three counties of Delaware, happening both during the school day and outside of it.

Tom Thunstrom

I joined BBBS in June, when COVID-19 was wreaking havoc throughout our disadvantaged communities. I have been blessed that our staff has been resilient and creative and felt empowered to help our mentors and kids through the pandemic.

Mentoring these days happens virtually — by Zoom, Google Meet, Skype, Duo or really any technological means possible. While that limits the in-person interaction that is ideal in mentoring, it has definitely driven some creative ideas. Game nights, shared cooking experiences, watch parties via Netflix, tours of museums around the world and playing video games online have become some of the creative workarounds. Despite the pandemic, the gift of technology has provided us the ability to pivot and work through the challenges as best as we can. I appreciate the presence of staff and mentors in supporting kids during this time.

Annually during the holiday season, our agency has supported families in Delaware through a gift appeal. This appeal relies on the support of our businesses and charitable institutions, who provide gifts and gift cards for families in desperate need of support. The economic impact of the pandemic has added more instability and pain to many. In central and southern Delaware, BBBS is thankful for Starbucks in Dover, the Delaware Lottery, Del-One Federal Credit Union, The Crossing (Lewes Church of Christ), WBOC’s Bless Our Children campaign, the support of our board of directors and several individuals who have provided our families a merrier and happier holiday season. Thank you!

Even with our corporate and volunteer partners, we are still in need of additional mentors. January is National Mentoring Month, and the holiday season provides us a great time to spread the word about the importance of mentoring and being present in the life of a boy or girl that could use some extra support. We currently have 150 Littles waiting for a Big Brother or Big Sister throughout our state, about 50 of whom are in Kent and Sussex counties. We especially could use some adult men as new mentors; the vast majority of our wait list consists of boys. If you’d like to help, email info@bbbsde.org, check out our website (bbbsde.org) or call 302-998-3577 for more information.

We provide you training, support and continual guidance as you become a Big Brother or Big Sister. We just ask for your time and presence to make it work.

An example of how mentoring makes a difference comes from a young girl in Kent County who joined our program at age 9. In their first meeting, the girl’s Big Sister asked what she wanted to do that day. For that girl, that one question changed everything and empowered her, since she had never been asked before what she likes to do. She developed confidence, improved her self-esteem and, eventually, graduated from high school and is now attending Delaware Technical Community College. She hopes to become a Big Sister once she is done with her studies.

Helping provide opportunity to those who are at-risk requires all of us working together in some way. At BBBS, we’re giving presence, stability and a trusted mentor to at-risk kids throughout our state. In doing this, we are unlocking the power and promise of all kids. It’s my hope you’ll join us or support us in helping kids succeed.

Tom Thunstrom is executive director of Big Brothers Big Sisters of Delaware.