January is National Mentoring Month and Big Brothers Big Sisters of Central Indiana are celebrating with their biggest social event yet.
Taking place Jan. 30, “The Biggest Social” aims to spread awareness about the benefits of mentoring and help any interested volunteers get started, said Big Brothers Big Sisters of Central Indiana CEO Darcey Palmer-Shultz.
The organization, which has been serving Central Indiana for more than 50 years, connects young people ages 8-14 with mentors in a one-on-one relationship until they turn 18 or graduate high school.
“The everyday moments are really what it’s all about,” Palmer-Shultz said. “So, it’s really just about spending consistent time together, getting to know each other. You’re showing someone that you care about them and that you will help them grow in the ways that they’re interested in.”
Although each mentorship is a little different in their own ways, Palmer-Shultz said all relationships focus on providing a steady source of support and helping the kids develop academically, socially and emotionally as well as avoiding risky behaviors.
Every single person needs other people to feel supported, encouraged and to be well, which is what Palmer-Shultz said is BBBSCI’s fundamental focus.
“Young people — despite what you might see or think about young people — really want to have connection,” Palmer-Shultz said. “They want to feel supported by their community, they want to feel engaged with their community, and they appreciate the encouragement and the opportunities that mentoring can make possible through these formal relationships that we’re able to put together.”
Joshua Lazenby, a current electrical engineering major at IUPUI, was paired with his mentee, Xavier, five and a half years ago. He was drawn to the program at a volunteer fair on campus but said it took him a year to actually commit to being a mentor.
However, Lazenby said he had several different mentors throughout his life, each of whom played a key role in his successes, and he wanted to be able to give back in the same way.
“I learned how I can make an impact in someone’s life,” Lazenby said. “It’s not about what age that person is or how much experience you have; it’s about being able to share your experiences to help that person out. I learned that I can do that at any stage of my life.”
Xavier said his mother signed him up for the program, but he was interested in trying it and doing something new. Although, he did not know what he wanted from a mentorship, Xavier said his match with Lazenby has opened him up to new experiences and made him more comfortable taking risks.
“I got to go to a [ice] skating rink, and it didn’t end the way I wanted it to because I fractured my ankle, but I would definitely go back if I could because it was fun; it was a great experience.” Xavier said. “It showed me that experiences, bad or good, regardless of the outcome, there’s always something good to come from it.”
After graduation, Xavier said he plans to attend college — something Lazenby has been helping him with by looking for scholarships — and eventually come back to BBBSCI as a mentor.
BBBSCI hosts events and activities at their office on North Meridian Street for volunteers and matches in the program on a monthly basis. Game night is one of Xavier’s favorite activities to do with Lazenby, as it presents a good opportunity to meet up with other matches, make friends, and swap stories and ideas, Lazenby said.
They also host regular fundraisers and Celebrate Mentoring graduation for high school-age kids graduating from the program, Palmer-Shultz said.
As National Mentoring Month concludes, Palmer-Shultz said she hopes “The Biggest Social” will bring in more members of the community to learn about the organization and sign up to volunteer. At any given moment, BBBSCI has around 1,000 kids waiting to be paired up with a mentor.