One of 334 Big Brothers Big Sisters (BBBS) programs in the US, Big Brothers Big Sisters of Western North Carolina works to make a difference by one-on-one mentoring. Volunteers meet with the children and teens they are paired with for several hours, two to three times per month. The mentors offer encouragement, friendship and their time as well as new experiences and perspectives. The organization also offers school-based programming where adults meet with a child one hour per week and offer academic encouragement. “Our mission is to ignite the potential in the children we serve,” says Executive Director Leila Duncan.
By providing a safe setting where a young person can be heard, the program is the ideal venue for the prevention and treatment of substance use disorder. “At its core, our program is a substance use disorder-related program,” Duncan says. As substance use disorders continue to increase throughout Western North Carolina, organizations like BBBS are finding creative solutions to help. The organization partnered with Dogwood to expand from 9 counties into all 18 counties in Western North Carolina and the Qualla Boundary. They were able to use grant funding to expand staff and services.
“One important takeaway from our partnership with Dogwood is the wonderful relationships we have been able to build with fellow resource organizations,” says Duncan. She says that because their mentors have a direct line to children and their families, they can help identify where problems are occurring or are likely to occur and point families in the direction of the right resources to help their particular situation. “We facilitate a space where young people can have difficult conversations,” she adds. “No one organization is going to fix this; we must work together.”
BBBS of WNC has also been able to amplify the funding provided by Dogwood. With funding dollars, they provided more staff in areas the organization had never been before, such as in Madison, Mitchell, Yancy and McDowell Counties. They were then able to turn to other foundations, such as the Western North Carolina Community Foundation, to solicit grants in those areas to apply for funds that go straight to youth services, including funding enrichment activities that “bigs and littles” can do together.