By Pam Iorio
Over the past couple of years, tensions between police and the communities they serve have been in the news on an almost weekly basis. Many community leaders are calling for all of us to be more empathetic, see the world through our neighbors’ eyes, or unite to heal after tragedy.
As the country’s oldest mentoring organization, we want to offer one way for communities to take a step toward understanding, unity and healing. We have launched a new national initiative called “Bigs in Blue,” through which local Big Brothers Big Sisters agencies will match law enforcement officers with youth in one-to-one mentoring relationships.
The match between the Big and the Little teaches both the mentor (“Big”) and mentee (“Little”) to open themselves up to new experiences and to see their community through a new lens. We know that mentoring leads to greater outcomes for youth. Research shows that youth with a Big Brother or Big Sister are 52 percent less likely to skip school and 46 percent less likely to start using drugs. More than 90 percent of Littles say their Big makes them feel better about themselves. We believe mentoring also has the power to connect people to teach mutual respect, to unite us and to foster better health.
We are proud to have WellCare as a partner as we start or expand Bigs in Blue in cities across the country. With a sponsorship of up to $750,000 over three years, WellCare will enable us to start or expand Bigs in Blue in seven cities:
- Chicago, Illinois
- Columbia, South Carolina
- Louisville, Kentucky
- New York, New York
- Omaha, Nebraska
- Orlando, Florida
- Tampa, Florida
In each community, law enforcement officers will volunteer to spend at least an hour a week with their Littles, or youth who live in the communities they serve. Both the Little and the Big will learn about one another and begin to see the world from a different perspective. One relationship at a time, we will help our communities grow stronger.
We’re excited for this partnership and have already seen great successes with this program. For example, in Roanoke, Virginia, Bigs in Blue has been in place for several years. Last November, a TODAY Show segment highlighted the relationship of Little Brother Robert and Big Brother Ryan, a detective with the Roanoke Police Department. The match gets together to work on homework, hit baseballs and run sprints. Little Brother Robert now has a positive male role model, and Big Brother Ryan says he feels more hopeful and positive about his community in general. As Bigs in Blue spreads to these seven communities and more Big-Little matches are created and strengthened, we look forward to sharing more stories about the impact of Bigs in Blue and WellCare’s partnership.
Leading Big Brothers Big Sisters of America (BBBSA) is President and CEO Pam Iorio, the former two-term mayor of Tampa, Florida. As mayor, Iorio focused on revitalizing downtown, investing in infrastructure, supporting redevelopment throughout the city, reducing crime, investing in the arts, fostering the city’s fiscal stability, and boosting the city’s financial reserves, which tripled even during the recession.
Iorio became the leader of BBBSA, the nation’s oldest mentoring organization, in March 2014. Today, there are over 300 affiliates in all 50 states matching volunteers, called “Bigs,” with children, “Littles.” These caring relationships help change a young person’s life for the better.
BBBSA is undergoing a nationwide strategic planning process, and recently launched Bigs in Blue, a national initiative to recruit police officers as mentors, building bridges between police and the communities they serve.