Generally, when I meet people and tell them I head the local Big Brothers Big Sisters agency, I often get this reaction: "I've always thought about being a Big Brother (or Big Sister), but I'm way too busy."
The good news is that ours is a movement with a role for all citizens. There are many ways to support what our movement achieves — results that make a real difference in children's lives, increasing the chances that they will succeed in school, solve problems without violent behavior, and avoid drugs and other illegal activities.
In addition to those who get involved as a Big Brother or Big Sister, the movement also includes corporate partners, event volunteers, professional advisers, private donors, board members and others willing to tap into their personal power and do what they can to provide support.
It is a community movement of many diverse people who make it possible for our match specialists on staff to provide support to the caring, generous volunteers whose friendships with at-risk children yield those remarkable results.
With growing economic pressures on families in our community and across America, the need for all citizens to join the Big Brothers Big Sisters movement is urgent. Children are facing risks that lead to soaring dropout rates, violence and crime. What we achieve — how we improve the odds that children will succeed — is extremely relevant.
With that in mind, Big Brothers Big Sisters, in recognition of January as National Mentoring Month, is introducing a way to recognize citizens who support the movement to help our children grow up in America, whether their role is mentoring or helping children beat the odds and break negative cycles in some other way.
We are asking Americans to nominate outstanding individuals for Big Brothers Big Sisters' first "Big Citizen of the Year" Award. This honor recognizes that helping children make good choices takes family members, teachers, religious leaders, coaches, neighbors and so many others who care about kids. The "Big Citizen of the Year" Award is a way to illustrate that many people are using their personal power to make a positive difference in the lives of children.
So this month, we invite you to join the movement. You can do so by simply recognizing someone you know who is helping children in our community. Go to bigbrothersbigsisters.org and give a local unsung hero an opportunity to be recognized nationally. Don't forget to invite your friends, family members and those on your e-mail lists to vote for him or her.
The winner will receive recognition at the 2009 Big Brothers Big Sisters' National Conference in Miami and celebrate the honor at a private "Big Celebrity" dinner with professional athletes and actors, philanthropists and business executives who are also members of our movement.
At the same time, while nominating your favorite Big Citizen, you will be able to tap into your own power and select from a number of ways that you can make a difference and encourage others to do what they can.
Big Brothers Big Sisters mentors (the "Bigs," as we call them) are remarkable, proving that the power of volunteer time and compassion can really make a difference in our community. The Bigs in our network are college graduates, middle-age blue collar workers, corporate managers and executives, retirees, athletes, artists — a diverse group who cares about how our children are growing up in our community and throughout America.
But this Mentoring Month, we want everyone to know that the movement works not only because of the Bigs, but also because of communities, such ours, that support them.
Susan Rolston is CEO of Big Brothers Big Sisters of Pinellas, Hernando and Citrus counties. The organization's Web site is www.bbbspc.org. The main office phone number in Largo is (727) 518-8860.