Thurston County is filled with passionate people who work hard, play with enthusiasm and give back in the ways that inspire them most. In our busy lives, sometimes it can be a challenge to grasp just what makes this community special, which is why Greene Realty Group shares Community Stories, shining a spotlight on some of the best local businesses and non-profit organizations that make Thurston County a great place to live. One of those organizations is Big Brothers Big Sisters of Southwest Washington. Before the Community Stories camera even starts rolling on Jeff Engle, CEO, it’s clear he truly believes in the mission of Big Brothers Big Sisters, like many others that are involved with the nonprofit organization.
Big Brothers Big Sisters of Southwest Washington is part of a national organization that has been changing the lives of youth for over a century. The Southwest Washington chapter supports 22 sites in 12 cities across Thurston, Mason, Lewis, Pacific and Grays Harbor counties. The organization creates and supports one on one mentorship relationships between an adult (Big) and a child between the ages of 6- and 18-years-old (Little).
Bigs come from all walks of life, but the thing that unites them is a passion for making a difference in the life of a child. Littles are children that can benefit from a safe, supportive mentor that guides and encourages them as they grow. “That’s where we come in and provide them a safe positive role model to be a friend, a guiding light, a confidant,” says Jeff.
Jeff’s involvement with Big Brothers Big Sisters began as a Big. “I was looking for something to do, a way to give back to the community,” he says. “I was an empty-nester so I looked at lots of different organizations and Big Brothers Big Sisters was the perfect fit.” Jeff and his Little have been paired for almost 8 years, and his Little is now 19-years-old. Though the mentorship has evolved, the relationship is still going strong. “We do everything from going hiking, going to the movies, or grabbing a bite to eat. We talk a lot,” Jeff adds. “He really opens up to me.”
One of the challenges for a Big can be finding fun things to do with their little. Jeff wanted to find more educational things they could do together, things that brought science and math together. Once his Little grew out of the Hands On Children’s Museum, they had to go out of town. “We thought, wouldn’t it be great if we had a place here in town for Bigs and Littles to go explore science, technology, engineering and math,” says Jeff. So, the Big Brothers Big Sisters of Southwest Washington decided to put together their MY STEAM Learning Lab. Funded through grants and donations, the lab contains plenty of things like robotics kits and state-of-the-art 3D printers, which give Bigs and Littles fun learning opportunities to do together. “Last summer we had a week-long MY STEAM Learning Lab with drone pilots,” he adds.
“Our strategy is to ignite the potential in youth,” says Jeff. The benefits of mentorship are lasting. “When they have a mentor, they do better in school, they have better relationships, and their all-around performance improves,” he explains. “When they reach back to their Bigs, they have amazing stories about how much that Big influence their life.”
There is a lot of work that goes in behind the scenes at Big Brothers Big Sisters. “The majority of our time goes into match support,” says Jeff. The Southwest Washington chapter supports 315 Littles and 315 Bigs, and also includes support for the 315 families that are attached to those Littles. When a parent or guardian reaches out to Big Brothers Big Sisters, they go through an interview process, looking at the Littles interests and personality. A similar process happens when a Big volunteers, and in addition to looking at personality and interests, Big Brothers Big Sisters performs a thorough background check, emphasizing that safety is the number one priority. Then they look to match Bigs and Littles with complimenting personalities. Following the match, a lot of time is spent ensuring that the matches are good ones and providing supports for lasting matches. “The longer a match lasts, the more impact it has on a youth, improving their relationships with others at school, better grades and so forth,” adds Jeff.
But the important work that Big Brothers Big Sisters does, cannot happen without volunteers and the support of the community. That’s where Greene Realty Group’s Community Stories come in. “It’s so clear to us to see just how great an organization like Big Brothers Big Sisters is, but it’s also true that many people in the community have very little knowledge of what they do,” says Arthur Dalessandro, for Greene Realty. “That’s why it’s a privilege for us to showcase them and help tell their story.”
Greene Realty hopes that by sharing the amazing things that Big Brothers Big Sisters of Southwest Washington is doing, more people will become involved with the organization. “Thurston County is filled with incredible people and an incredible local economy. Having the opportunity to tell stories about non-profits who help children see their full potential is an absolute blessing,” adds Arthur.
If you are interested in volunteering or helping to support Big Brothers Big Sisters of Southwest Washington, check out their website or give them a call at 360-943-0409.