Helping Louisiana Youth Bridge Gaps, Realize Potential in Life and Learning

Big Brothers Big Sisters of Southwest Louisiana facilitates mentorship through meaningful matches
Apr 16, 2024 2:20 PM ET
An adult helping a youth cook in a kitchen

“We work with them on education, first and foremost.”

Erin Davison, CEO of Big Brothers Big Sisters (BBBS) of Southwest Louisiana, has been in her role for almost seven years. She notes that now, more than ever, youth are facing heightened behavioral challenges after enduring the COVID-19 pandemic.

“I’m a social worker by trade, and we are seeing more youth come through the door with these challenges than any other time in my career,” says Davison. “There are more economic gaps to recover from—the pandemic and other natural disasters in this area caused up to an 18-month interruption for some people.”

And where interruptions occurred in employment, so too did they impact education—most critically for school-aged youth in kindergarten through Grade 2, when the “basics” are taught.

To combat this, additional BBBS programs for middle school- and high school-aged kids take on extra importance. For example, the MentorU program focuses on college readiness and career exploration for tweens and teens aged 12-18, expanding on the longstanding, evidence-based mentorship model that has been in place since the inception of Big Brothers Big Sisters of America in 1904.

BBBS of Southwest Louisiana helps youth aged 6 through young adulthood achieve their full potential by making a meaningful match with a volunteer mentor, or a “Big.” After a meticulous process of assessing hobbies, personalities and preferences, youth “Littles” are paired with their Bigs to begin their mentorship journey.

The most common age for a Little used to be 6 to 11, but the introduction of newer hybrid group mentoring programs catered to older kids has started to shift this upwards.

A recent Enbridge Fueling Futures grant of $5,000 to BBBS of Southwest Louisiana helps to support 400 youth needing mentoring and 80 youth waiting to be admitted into BBBS mentoring programs.

“Our waitlist of ready-to-be-matched kids more than doubled in the past nine months,” says Davison. “We need this kind of support from partners to help us address their challenges and improve school and career readiness for these kids.”

On average, the cost to support one youth is $2,000 per year.

BBBS of Southwest Louisiana works often with “asset-limited” families—those that earn enough to stay above the poverty line, but not enough to pay all their bills and make ends meet.

“We really try to stress economic empowerment with our youth,” says Davison. “While we can’t change their whole circumstance, we can provide positive interaction and support to help them better navigate life’s challenges.”

The BBBS agency is celebrating its 45th anniversary this year—a testament to its program success, backed by evidence. Self-reported changes from Littles include greater confidence in schoolwork performance, getting along better with their families, and a lower likelihood to engage in substance abuse or skipping school.

“We do our best to fuel their futures.”