By Malena Mendez
President and CEO
Big Brothers Big Sisters of Broward County
This Hispanic Heritage Month, I’d like to celebrate the value and closeness of family in the Latino culture. As a Latina born in Cuba who immigrated to the United States at age two with my parents and siblings, my family was the definition of a Latino family.
We grew up with a strong sense of family obligation, respect for elders and a sense of responsibility and duty to care for all members of the family. These values extended beyond our nuclear family to our extended family and community. It was a warm, nurturing, supportive, protective environment, built on strong family ties, a sense of honor, dignity, pride and tradition.
Latinos comprise approximately 31 percent of our population in Broward County with families remaining close-knit and interconnected. Unfortunately, like in all populations, some Latino households face hardship and difficulties – from divorce to death – that changes the trajectory of the family and derails its traditions. Moms become single parents, grandparents become primary care givers, teenagers look after young ones while parents work, and a whole host of
other circumstances that may change the face of the family.
In these new, more challenging situations, as Latino families strive to hold on to traditional values, there are many wonderful organizations that support parents or guardians while immensely helping the children. One of these important resources is the one-to-one, professionally supported mentoring relationships provided by Big Brothers Big Sisters of Broward County.
Consider the story of Little Brother Roby Pilar-Garcia. Roby, the son of a single parent, is on the autism spectrum. Because of his autism, Roby was extremely introverted and had rough time interacting with others. His Big Brother Randy Haas, who was matched with Roby in 2018, discovered shared interests with Roby in history, geography, the arts, wildlife and nature, and used this common ground to connect and build a relationship.
Haas also engaged Roby in simple tasks like learning the state capitals, making change, calculating tips, keeping eye contact and shaking hands. Over time, Roby began to find his confidence and engage more. Haas and Roby also focused on academics. Since becoming Haas’s Little Brother two years ago, Roby’s academic performance has improved substantially. Roby has been able to move from special education to mainstream classes. Roby said, “Because of Randy, I am the person I am today, a person who is so goal and academically focused.” Big mentors become role models, friends and confidants while standing solidly with parents and guardians. They enrich children’s lives culturally, socially and academically, and support them in reaching their potential through this special mentoring relationship.
What’s more, research proves that young people in the Big Brothers Big Sisters program achieve higher aspirations, greater confidence, better relationships and educational success. A national survey of Littles in the program found: 79 percent graduated high school and had expectations of going to and finishing college; 83 percent agree that their Big instilled values and principles that have guided them through life; 92 percent reported an increase in their willingness to learn and increase their educational expectations; and 97 percent showed a decrease in risky behaviors like drugs, alcohol and tobacco.
This past year in Broward County, 100 percent of our 12 th -grade Littles graduated high school or earned their GED; 80 percent were promoted to the next grade level; 98 percent stayed out of the juvenile justice system; and 78 percent remained engaged in school in a virtual setting. We have seen these success measures play out over and over again, having created more than 50,000 professionally supported mentoring relationships for children across in Broward County since its inception.
Big Brothers Big Sisters of Broward County is an important, free resource for Latino families, and all families. Our program, and the powerful long-term relationships it creates, ignites the power and promise of youth that changes lives for the better, forever. I encourage interested parents to visit www.BBBSBroward.org or call (954) 584-9990 for more information.
Malena Mendez is President and CEO of Big Brothers Big Sisters of Broward County. A Cuban immigrant, she is the mother of two grown children.