Mythbusters: Top 10 JBBBS untruths debunked!

1)   It’s Jewish Big Brothers Big Sisters. It’s not for me. I’m Christian [or Buddhist or Baha’i or Muslim or…].

Inclusion is a hallmark of progressive Jewish institutions. Sure, we have deep roots in the local Jewish community and strong, proud ties to it to the present day, but there is no requirement that one be Jewish to participate, as either a client or volunteer, in the life of the Jewish Big Brothers Big Sisters agency. We welcome participation from individuals and families of all religious backgrounds – including people with no religious affiliation.

2)  Jewish Big Brothers Big Sisters is a program of the Leventhal-Sidman JCC. 

It isn’t. JBBBS rents office space at the JCC. We like it here. We enjoy close working relationships with our colleagues at the J. That said, JBBBS is its very own entity.

3)  JBBBS exclusively serves individuals and families living in Newton.

False: We serve clients across some 90+ towns in Eastern Massachusetts. Our volunteers, too, come to us from all parts of Greater Boston, the North Shore, South Shore and beyond.

4)  JBBBS is a new entity.

No. JBBBS was one of the founding members of the Big Brothers Big Sisters movement in the United States. Our organization was founded in 1919 and has been in continual existence since.

5)  JBBBS serves children.

That’s only part of the story! We do serve children. (We serve children ages 6-18 who could both benefit from, and actually want, an adult mentor.) But we also serve adults with disabilities through a program called, “Friend 2 Friend.” Participants in F2F, all adults with disabilities who seek connection and socialization with other adults, are matched to community volunteers for just that purpose.

6)  There’s no “need” in the Jewish community.

Yes there is. We’re quite sure of it, because we’ve seen it and experienced it firsthand. Some Jewish people are poor. Some Jewish people are sick. Some Jewish people are mentally ill. Some Jewish people have disabilities. Some Jewish people are socially-isolated. And some don’t talk about it. Frankly, we wish they would.

7)  I’m a young adult on a starting salary. I’d be happy to make a small gift to support the great work you do, but you couldn’t possibly benefit from this $20. 

Oh, yes we could. Those small gifts add up. Plus, we recognize that micro-philanthropy is one very important way young people cast their support behind those causes they care about the most! Show us the money.

8)  I’m somebody’s grandpa. I’m too old to be a Big Brother.

No you’re not! While JBBBS volunteers have to be at least 18 years of age and have completed secondary school, there’s no such thing as “too old” to volunteer.

9)  I don’t think I have the time to make a difference.

We’re pretty sure you do. Here’s why: While it’s the case that some of our programs stipulate that volunteers meet with their Little Brothers, Little Sisters or adult friends 2-3 times per month for a few hours each time, our Children’s School-Based Programs in Newton, Needham and Waltham and our Friend 2 Friend MAGIC program offer time-limited, predictable opportunities to forge mentoring-friendships. And even if now is the wrong time for you to volunteer in any ongoing capacity, it’s very possible we could use your support around some short-term initiative (i.e. planning or staffing an event).

10)  At JBBBS, it’s all about the match!

To be fair, it’s a lot about the match. We take great pride in bringing together Big and Little Brothers and Sisters and adult Friends who go on to have impactful, long-lasting relationships. But that’s not all: We also offer short-term counseling, camp and college scholarship aid and economic assistance to families experiencing financial hardship. We sponsor social events and operate a leadership program for young adults. The list goes on. JBBBS is a robust, happening agency!

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In our community: Erin Doniger.

Every month, we profile a member of the Jewish Big Brothers Big Sisters’ community, highlighting what drew them here and what keeps them coming back for more. This National Mentoring Month, meet former Little Sister-turned-Children’s Program volunteer, Erin Doniger!

What motivated you to become a Big Sister?

First and foremost, my own experiences as a Little Sister motivated me. JBBBS is such a wonderful organization, and it’s done so much for me, personally, over the years that I knew I wanted to give back by providing mentoring and friendship to a little girl.

What did you enjoy most about your experience as a Little Sister? What do you most enjoy about being someone else’s Big Sis?  

My Big Sister was a really great tennis player and often took me to the courts to play. I loved spending time with her this way because not only did we have lots of fun, but I also got to learn a really great skill from her. As a Big Sister myself, I love having the opportunity to plan fun activities that my Little Sister and I can both enjoy and benefit from together.

What might you tell a parent about the benefits of seeking a mentor for their child?  

Looking back at my parents’ decision to enroll me, I am nothing but thankful. The organization does a wonderful job matching Big and Little Brothers and Sisters so that the relationship is positive for everyone involved. I personally benefitted immensely from the opportunities that JBBBS afforded me, and I would genuinely encourage parents to do for their child what mine did for me by getting involved.

How do you spend your free time?

When I’m not working or volunteering, I’m catching up with friends and family, watching movies, cheering on the Patriots…

Go Pats! To enroll a family member, to volunteer or to learn more about JBBBS, e-mail info@jbbbs.org.

My mentor, myself: How newspaper clippings, a movie about space camp and a lady I met in kindergarten made me.

My kindergarten teacher, Mrs. C., asked her students to draw a picture of something that made them happiest. In a sea of flowers and bunnies and fairy princesses and stick figures to resemble parents, I drew a rocket ship. I was going to be an astronaut.

Was I sure, wondered Mrs. C. Was I really sure that this blue and white oval representing a space shuttle and those yellow X’s representing stars and the two red circles (Mars twinned?) in the background made me happiest? Yes, I told her. I was sure. I scanned my classmates’ handiwork: I was absolutely sure deep space represented the penultimate happiness. After all, I could take my pet turtle, my best friend, and my parents with me! They were there in the picture. “You just can’t see them because they’ve already boarded the spacecraft!”

As Mrs. C. nodded, understanding perfectly, one of my classmates – first name Anthony, last name redacted to protect the guilty – wondered out loud where I got the crazy idea I should set my sights on space anyway. “Girls can’t be astronauts!” he cackled. Actually, advised Mrs. C., girls could. Girls are. So, she said, it was perfectly reasonable for me to aspire to the space program.

Over the next few months, until I joined the ranks of the first grade, Mrs. C. made sure I knew it. She clipped newspaper articles. She told me about this place called “Space Camp” where kids get to go on simulated missions. She introduced me (and my very patient parents) to the movie of the same name, which I (and they) saw at least three dozen times by the time I turned six.

Our relationship was simple.

Our relationship was profound.

Mrs. C. was, for all intents and purposes, one of my earliest mentors. At the time, I figured she was looking out for my career; now I know she was looking out for me. And while so many math problems and the Challenger disaster changed my mind about schlepping off to space – because, come to think of it, I wanted to be a teacher! –  I never questioned what girls could be. (Instead, I questioned that anybody should question! I was a feminist before I knew there was a word for me. Mrs. C. is probably at least in part to thank for that.)

So it is that I really believe mentors matter. So it is that I think every last one of us needs his or her own.  So it is that someone reading along is, or knows someone who, by virtue of being themselves (and having the wherewithal to keep pace with the latest news out of NASA) could do a lot of justice by another human being.

It’s National Mentoring Month. So, in my professional capacity – never made it to space, made it to law school, became a “non-profiteer!” – I challenge you to remember a somebody (or more than one somebody) who showed you they cared.  Then resolve to make a difference this New Year. Pick up the phone. Shoot me an e-mail. Ask me how you can help enroll a family member in one of our programs. Ask me what it takes to be a volunteer-mentor to a child in need or a friend to an adult with disabilities. Make a donation to JBBBS in the name of your favorite mentor. Join the conversation on social media (#NMMatJBBBS) right now! And learn more about National Mentoring Month here.

– Joni Kusminsky, J.D., Manager of Recruitment and Communications