Big Brothers Big Sisters matches kids with adult mentors

By Todd Cohen

MORRISVILLE, N.C. — When Kimberly Breeden was 16, her mother was murdered. Just a week shy of her 39th birthday, Dora Locklear Breeden had had a passion for children but had left her job as an elementary school teacher to work in the convenience store her husband owned. She was killed in the store.

Breeden says her salvation after that devastating loss was a woman family friend who stepped into her life as a mentor. That experience led her to devote her life to kids, says Breeden, CEO of Big Brothers Big Sisters of the Triangle.

“My career has always been in the the direction of serving children,” she says.

At North Carolina Wesleyan College in Rocky Mount, she studied business and physical education, modeling her course of  study “toward being able to run an organization that served children.”

Her first job was working as youth director for YWCA Greensboro, running its after-school programs, then she served as director of operations for the Salvation Army Boys and Girls Clubs in High Point before working as executive director of the Boys and Girls Clubs in Greensboro and then in Lee County.

In 2002, she was named executive director of Big Brothers Big Sisters of Durham and Orange County, which merged in October 2005 with YMCA Big Brothers Big Sisters a program of YMCA of the Triangle, to form Big Brothers Big Sisters of the Triangle.

Operating with an annual budget of $1.1 million, a staff of 16 people and a core of 700 adult volunteers, the Morrisville nonprofit serves nearly 1,000 “littles” a year, including 700 who are matched with adult “bigs,” and 275 who are on a waiting list but participate in fitness activities ranging from rock-climbing and hiking to walking, running, cooking and “game night.”

Big Brothers Big Sisters spends most of its effort screening children and adults who want to be in the program, matching them, and then supporting those matches. Children ages six to 14 may apply, and can stay matched until they graduate from high school.

The screening process is comprehensive and finding a match can take 60 days for adults, four to six months for girls and up to a year for boys.

“We don’t have as many male volunteers as females,” says Breeden, who has served as a volunteer Big Sister in Greensboro and in the Triangle. “That is our need as an organization — male volunteers.”

Of the 700 children now matched with adults, 58 percent are girls and 42 percent are boys.

For kids and their parents or caregivers, the screening process includes detailed interviews; placement on a ready-to-be matched list; a meeting with matching staff from the agency and volunteers who have gone through their own screening process and selected up to three children they would like to work with — without knowing their identities and based on profiles the agency prepares; and signing an agreement that binds the relationship and spells out goals and commitments.

For adults, the screening process includes completing an application form; undergoing an extensive background check; a two-hour orientation; online training that takes four to five hours; an interview that takes 90 minutes to two hours; references checks; and placement on a ready-to-be-matched list.

With the loss of a federal grant that had enabled it to serve 150 to 200 children of incarcerated parents a year, Big Brothers Big Sisters is working to diversify its board, and increase the donations its members make and the dollars they help raise.

The agency launched a special board campaign this year that set a goal of $100,000, asking each member to give $1,000 and raise another $4,000. The effort has raised $80,000 and is on track to meet its goal by the end of the year, Breeden says.

Ultimately, she says, pairing adult volunteers with kids pays off for the kids, she says.

“They do better in school,” she says. “We keep them out of the juvenile justice system. There are no teen pregnancies with our organization. Our bigs really engage themselves in these kids’ lives.”

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