Big Brothers Big Sisters of the Inland Empire rebuilding after pandemic cancellations – San Bernardino Sun

Local high school students are giving elementary students mentorship and support.

Big Brothers Big Sisters of the Inland Empire is rebuilding programs that were halted during the COVID-19 pandemic and working to make more mentoring matches between adults and youths. The need for support is more urgent than before the pandemic for many youths, according to Jennifer O’Farrell, the organization’s executive director.

More children who report they have suicidal tendencies are applying for a Big Brother or Big Sister than in the past. Approximately 25% report having suicidal tendencies and 56% state they suffer from anxiety and/or depression. While every child profile is a little different, according to O’Farrell, the common threads are isolation, family stress from evictions or moving and the loss of a grandparent. There has been significant family member loss, especially in the Hispanic community, she said. The organization works with many youths whose families are under the federal poverty level and this additional instability has created greater stress.

One of the ways the organization is helping children is through reviving and expanding its High School Bigs program, which was put on hiatus during the pandemic. High school students between ninth and 11th grades are matched with elementary students in the Riverside, Fontana, San Bernardino City, Corona-Norco, Moreno Valley and Murrieta Valley unified school districts. Once a week after school, mentors meet with their mentees for an hour under the supervision of Big Brothers Big Sisters program specialists.

“There is not enough credence given to the ability of youth to empower and uplift each other,” O’Farrell said. “This will create our future workforce and I hope that it will inspire our adults to realize we need to show up, too.”

High school youths get just as much out of the experiences as their mentee. One Big Sister, said that she was not very patient with her own siblings but the program helped her learn the gift of listening, leading and caring. Her Little Sister in the program found the ally she needed, as well. The girl was being bullied on campus and reading two levels below her grade. The two spent time reading together and the girl, a third grader, was at reading level by the end of the year.

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