Big Brothers Big Sisters pair Carly Peterson and Andrea Adail bonded over a love of movies.
Three years later, they’re exploring college and career options — and still catching the occasional flick. On a recent group tour of Children’s Hospital in Minneapolis, Adail, a high school sophomore, slipped on scrubs and gloves and changed the diaper of a preemie baby mannequin in an neonatal ICU bed.
“It’s fun, but it’s also educational,” said Peterson, a psychologist who started mentoring Adail in middle school.
The century-old Big Brothers Big Sisters of the Greater Twin Cities is expanding its services to meet the needs of its growing clients, who typically join the program between ages 8 and 12.
Once focused largely on mentoring children and teenagers, the nonprofit is looking to stretch those relationships into their adult years. It has added a variety of career and college-themed outings and even overnight campus visits. The organization has also added a full-time college and career counselor to help the young adults 18 to 24 graduating from the program.
“Our job is allowing them to see what’s possible and dream big,” said Big Brothers Big Sisters CEO Michael Goar.
The nonprofit has also expanded to serve more children and teenagers in new ways. Historically, the nonprofit paired one child with one adult. A new pilot program at North High School in Minneapolis matches one adult mentor with two or three freshmen for weekly meetings where they discuss topics related to their social and emotional health.
“They are able to talk about personal feelings, ideas and thoughts. They can talk about what’s happening in their life,” Goar said.
The number of youths served by Big Brothers Big Sisters in 2017 was 2,664, an 11 percent increase over the year before. That number is expected to surpass 4,000 with these new initiatives.
Big Brothers Big Sisters has long focused on relationship building through activities like picnics and movies, but the formal mentoring typically ended after high school. Graduation rates and enrollment in college or trade schools had long been the measure of success.
But mentees often need extra support, encouragement and friendship in their early adult years. It just made sense to add career and college counseling to its programs, Goar said.
“It’s our job to make sure we expose all the youth we are serving to career options,” he said. “It’s getting them excited and it’s getting them engaged.”
Teen sessions include overnight college visits, career explorations at local companies and seminars on healthy living and sexual health.
Monica Billy, a Big Brothers Big Sisters staffer, said teenagers are often surprised by the new offerings.
“They are used to thinking, ‘We’re going to bake cookies,’ ” Billy said.
During college visits, the nonprofit plans activities beyond a campus tour, like attending a sporting event or checking out a popular coffee shop.
“We try to show them there is more to being a student than just going to a class,” said Jenny Javitch, Big Brothers Big Sisters director of teen programming.
Billy, a college and career counselor who works with young adults ages 18 to 24, said her position emerged out of sheer demand.
Program graduates called seeking information and resources about college, housing and job searches.
“A lot of them were still reaching back to us with questions and still needing help,” Billy said. “It’s been great reconnecting with them and seeing them through their college experience and job training.”
Daniel Li joined Big Brothers Big Sisters when he was in first grade. He is now a freshman at the University of Minnesota studying to be a physical therapist. He credits the program with helping him land there. Li said he took several campus and career tours as part of the program. Nonprofit staff helped him draft his résumé, talked through possible career options with him and connected him with an ACT preparatory course.
“I would have never found that resource without Big Brothers Big Sisters,” Li said.
Li still attends some of the career explorations along with his 15-year-old brother James, who is also part of the program.
A big part of the group’s role is giving mentees a fuller sense of career possibilities available to them.
Fifteen teenagers and their mentors signed up to take a hands-on tour of Children’s Hospital in Minneapolis in March.
Adail, who attends Creative Arts Secondary School in St. Paul, and her mentor Peterson, have taken several career exploration tours including one at Comcast earlier in the year.
Peterson was paired with Adail three years ago. They meet twice a month for movies, to complete homework assignments and career field trips.
Adail said she plans to go to college, but she’s still uncertain what she wants to do as career.
During the tour, Adail asked nurses several questions and was quick to jump in during the hands-on activities.
Peterson said she’s enjoyed seeing Adail grow, find her own voice and explore new interests.
The Twin Cities branch of Big Brothers Big Sisters formed in 1920 and has matched nearly half a million youngsters with adult mentors over the years.
Goar said the biggest challenge to their mission is recruiting mentors. He is encouraged by the new generation of mentors joining the program and local corporations like General Mills and Medtronic encouraging employees to mentor.
“There is a great sense of urgency. So many kids are waiting to be mentored,” Goar said. “We have more than 500 kids on the waiting list.”