Pam Iorio is President and CEO of Big Brothers Big Sisters of America. Here is her organization’s response to the Parkland shooting.
These were the words I heard from Ana Cedeño, the CEO of Big Brothers Big Sisters of Broward County in the hours after the dreadful tragedy.
A “Big” is the word we use for a mentor. For 114 years, caring adults have volunteered to be a Big Brother or a Big Sister to a “Little”. Across the county, approximately 350 high school mentors are Bigs to elementary and middle students. These professionally supported matches can make all the difference in a young person’s life.
Some of our BBBS agencies have a high school Big program which matches a high school student with a Little in elementary school. For 15 years, Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School has been the site of such a program and has partnered with Big Brothers Big Sisters of Broward for the past 15 years. It is one of the longest-standing high school relationships with the organization (BBBS)
Time has shown that our Littles perform better at school, are less inclined to engage in risky behaviors and report greater self-esteem. There are times in the life of a Little that the only person they can turn for support is their Big.
The 27 Big teenagers at MSDHS are juniors and seniors who work with Littles who attend their partner school, Country Hills Elementary.
In those first hours, we didn’t know the full extent of this horrific shooting. As the day unfolded we learned of 17 deaths, including 14 students. Other students were injured and hospitalized, including one of our Bigs.
Since that shooting all Americans have been saddened by the destructive force that one person can unleash. The senseless loss of these students and their teachers diminishes us all. And then I go back to those first words: “We have 27 Bigs at Marjory Stoneman Douglas.”
It is an incredible display of leadership to mentor a young person. That so many teenagers at MSDHS decided to devote part of each week to help the next generation of children speaks volumes about them and the culture of the school. The 27 high school Bigs at Douglas High demonstrate their concern for the welfare of younger children as they face the many challenges of growing up.
Their leadership is inspiring, as is the leadership displayed by over 150,000 Big mentors across our country. These volunteers, in all 50 states, give of their time and their hearts to help a young person be their best self.
It is difficult, if not impossible, to reach and help every young person who needs guidance and support. But that doesn’t mean we stop trying. Our country is only as good as we make it, each of us, in our own way.
We can’t help but wonder if the shooter’s life would have taken a different turn had he been matched with a Big Brother.