In the mid 1990’s Aubrey Proud was a student at Davidson College in North Carolina. In between classes, Proud found the time to volunteer as a Big Brother, a volunteer mentor to a child in need in the area.
Proud’s little brother, Donnell, was a fifth grader at the time. Together, Proud and Donnell attended sporting events, went out for ice cream, spent time at Donnell’s house and hung out on the Davidson Campus. Donnell even attended Proud’s college graduation in 1996.
“It was a great experience that I have many fond memories of,” Proud said.
Those memories all came rushing back to him when Kimberly Hopkins, development and marketing manager for Big Brothers Big Sisters of the Lehigh Valley, approached the company he works for, Magellan Behavioral Health of Pennsylvania, to consider participating in the nonprofit’s LEAD BIG initiative.
For Proud, director of communications and community relations for Magellan Behavioral Health of Pennsylvania, the decision to sign Magellan on as a corporate membership sponsor of the program was an easy one. LEAD BIG aims to cut the number of children on the waiting list for a Big Brother or Big Sister in the Valley
“This just seemed like a perfect opportunity for our company,” he said. “It offers a unique chance to make a positive impact on the youth of our community and we look forward to creating more mentors.”
Corporate partners like Magellan will further LEAD BIG’s mission of supporting 50 Big and Little (mentor/mentee) matches over the course of the next year. Right now BBBSLV is halfway to the goal, with 25 more sponsored matches needed.
Each one-to-one mentoring match costs the nonprofit organization $1,200 annually to create and professionally-support during the span of the relationship.
LEAD BIG membership tiers include Visionary at $12,000; Pioneer at $6,000; Partner at $3,600; and Match Maker at $1,200.
Aside from the monetary donation, corporate sponsors agree to educate their employees on mentorship opportunities with BBBSLV.
In exchange, corporate members receive professional development benefits like leadership seminars, breakfast and happy hour networking events, marketing benefits and others.
For Proud, the real benefit is the rewarding feeling that comes with helping the community that Magellan does business in.
“This is a great opportunity for our employees and their families to help,” Proud said. “It also ties into an incentive we give to employees called Volunteer Time Off. With VTO, we offer employees paid time off for one day each year to volunteer with the organization of their choice.”
Magellan has already started educating their employees on volunteer opportunities with BBBSLV and interest is growing among them, he said.
Like Proud, Deb Cummins Stellato can speak to the rewards of serving as a mentor to a child in need. Stellato, president of Think Good Leadership, a Bethlehem-based professional coaching service, is currently a Big Sister through BBBSLV.
“If I can help one child, that makes it worth it,” she said. Stellato meets with her Little Sister, Keilana, a few times a month. They like to paint pottery and make crafts together. Keilana loves to go to out to eat too. On one very special trip, Stellato took Keilana to New York City to visit the American Girl retail store and restaurant.
“She loves to help plan our activities and make a budget for us to stick to,” said Stellato. “This has built her confidence.”
Stellato said that she has gotten much more than she has given from her experience with Keilana. “She is an amazing, playful little girl with a lot of light,” she said. “The expectation is that she will be in my life forever.”
Susan Bartels, CEO of BBBSLV said that Stellato’s experience of getting more than she gives is typical for the mentors.
“That’s the hidden surprise of being a Big,” she said, “what happens to you personally in the program.”
BBBSLV’s Hopkins said that the response to the LEAD BIG initiative from businesses and the community in the Valley has been uniformly positive.
“Companies and employees are looking for ways to have meaningful conversations and have a direct impact, and this is a powerful way they can do that,” she said.
Hopkins sees a future in which no child in the Lehigh Valley will have to be put on a waiting list for a Big Brother or a Big Sister.
“That would be the ultimate goal,” she said, “to meet the need entirely, with the funding and mentors ready for every request that comes in.”