Once someone becomes a Big Brother or Sister, they’re invited to join the LA Bigs Facebook group- a community created for the Big Brothers and Big Sisters in the program. The group is an active and useful resource for new and tenured Bigs alike, providing an outlet for advice, conversation, and ideas to be shared between mentors.
This group is how I met Chris, who’s been a Big Brother since January 2017. He frequently promotes outing ideas for other matches, and shares stories about his outings with his Little Brother, Rovon. Chris’ experience as a passionate Big Brother engaged in the BBBSLA network is absolutely inspiring. His path demonstrates how he’s been able to shift his perceptions and create positive learning experiences with his Little Brother and other matches, all while advancing BBBSLA’s mentoring efforts in the community.
Big Brother Beginnings
The road to becoming a Big is not always linear, and Chris’ journey is no exception. When Chris was in college, he’d considered becoming a Big Brother, going so far as to interview with the program. Although he was invigorated by the interview, the potential challenges of balancing time commitments plagued his thoughts. Could he commit to meeting with a kid twice a month? Chris figured he had too much going on, and decided not to move forward with the process.
After settling in Los Angeles, the desire to be a Big remained on his mind. His wife was a big supporter of his potential involvement- at one point, she sent him an ad about the need for male mentors of color. A few years after his first application, Chris was inspired to take the leap again after reading a mentorship success story. The summer of 2016, he reached out to BBBSLA and applied to be a Big Brother in the community program.
Over the next 6-7 months that followed, he thought about what the Little Brother he’d be supporting would be like. Initially, Chris thought his ideal Little Brother would be older- maybe 12 years old- and a sports lover that enjoys art or acting. Who he was matched with was not who was expecting at all. His Little Brother was Rovon- a 9 year old boy who loves Michael Jackson. The shift in his expectations from ideal to reality, Chris says, “was really eye-opening.”
“I realized after being with him that he’s a blank slate. He doesn’t know what he’s into; he might be into football, or he might not be. It was a reminder how to focus on what he’s into. I shifted my expectations for the better, and that helps our match.” It didn’t take long for Chris to realize that he no longer wanted to be matched with his seemingly “ideal” Little.
Creating Match Connections
Chris didn’t know any Bigs before he became a Big Brother himself, but that didn’t stop him and Rovon from quickly making connections with their fellow matches. At Sports Day, he struck up a conversation with fellow Big Brothers Dave and Donald. The guys hit it off, and decided to coordinate an outing together, along with their Little Brothers. The boys had a great time playing football and baseball in the park, and rounded out the day at IHOP. The success of their first get-together led to a group laser tag outing in Alhambra, this time including a new match. Since successfully facilitating his first match outings, Chris more recently coordinated a larger scale retreat for him and a few other matches, led by a friend that teaches wilderness survival tactics.
While establishing connections with other BBBSLA matches alongside Rovon, Chris has been able to model positive socialization and male friendships for his Little Brother. “There are always opportunities for learning,” he notes, even when having fun during an outing with other kids. “I want them to be able to trust people,” he says, “Some of these other boys, they probably don’t have a lot of men in their lives.”
While his Little Brother is very sociable and fun to be around, Chris has used the opportunity to meet other matches as a lesson in appropriate socialization and boundaries. “I explain to him how to treat other people- girls and women, as an extension. I understand he’s 11, but I try to let him know some of these boundaries that he may not be aware of. It’s good to have an adult there to show good values.” Chris wants Rovon to develop positive social skills through their match outings, and also hopes his Little Brother will form long-lasting friendships with the other Littles he’s met through the program. “I would love if Rovon is friends with them when he’s 20.”
Now that he’s been matched for over a year, Chris recalls how his past hesitations to join BBBSLA have transformed. “My line of thinking would be, ‘It would be so difficult,’ but I changed my way of thinking. What I didn’t anticipate is how much I’d look forward to hanging out with him. I thought I’d feel like it’d be obligatory. I’d wonder how I’d fill the time for 3 hours; now I never do that. I’m so happy to be matched with him.”
For those who are on the fence about applying to become a Big Brother or Sister like he was initially, Chris’ advice is direct and emphatic. “Do it. Especially guys who grew up with or without a father- think of the things you learned about: how to change a tire, tie a tie, throw a football, how to make friends. Many of us had to learn those things on our own. Others had people show us, male or female. There are so many kids out there who need to learn it, and are waiting for someone to show them. I think all of us have something to share, no matter how lofty. Being that support in their lives is invaluable.”
Chris’ journey and self-growth to becoming a Big Brother is inspirational for those considering the leap into mentorship. His coordination with other matches, and creating social development opportunities from these outings, is influential to Bigs wondering how they can create a richer experience for their Little. In speaking with Chris, it’s clear his relationship with Rovon has had a positive impact on his life. “There are times I shudder to think what it would be like if Rovon and I hadn’t met- on both ends. I feel really blessed to have him. He tells me all the time that I’m the greatest Big Brother in the world.”
When he’s not singing along to Michael Jackson tunes with Rovon, Chris is employed as a social worker in Los Angeles. More recently, he’s started volunteering with the BBBSLA Junior Board, which is comprised of current and former Bigs that support the initiatives of the agency. With the support of the Junior Board, Chris will continue to be a defender of youth potential in Los Angeles by recruiting new Bigs, networking, fundraising, and building a community among his fellow Big Brothers and Big Sisters.
If you or someone you know would be an exceptional Junior Board contributor, please reach out to email@example.com for more details about joining!