Stephanie Patka Big Brothers Big Sisters
Stephanie Patka
Stephanie Patka is the executive director and CEO of Big Brothers Big Sisters of Elkhart County. In her blog, she'll be writing about the organization, its volunteers and the work it's doing to improve the lives of kids around the area.

The hard part about recruitment

Stephanie Patka, executive director of Big Brothers Big Sisters of Elkhart County, says it’s not hard to find people who’d love to help local children – it’s getting them to see past their hesitations. 

Posted on July 31, 2014 at 5:03 p.m.

Quite often I will be approached with the question, “Is it hard to recruit mentors for your program?” And often, the inquirer will already think that the answer is undoubtedly “YES!”

The truth, however, is different than one might expect.

The truth is that there is a NEED for mentors. So many times, this need is confused with a community’s lack of desire to help out. It’s quite the opposite: There are many people who desire to make a difference, especially in the lives of children. What is hard about recruitment is that these individuals care but hesitate to say yes because of the unknown – Will I get along with the child? Will I have enough time? What if I don’t know what to say? Will I make an impact?

Stephanie Patka is the executive director and CEO of Big Brothers Big Sisters of Elkhart County. She writes for the organization’s community blog, Give a Little More

The Big Brothers Big Sisters method of matching an adult to a child is anything but random. All potential volunteers participate in an extensive interview and orientation. The goal is to get enough information that we can make a compatible friendship between a Big and a Little. We take almost everything into consideration before we propose a match: where both parties live (we shoot for less than 5 miles apart), their shared interests and hobbies, their family lives, their personalities, and their career choices or aspirations.

Because our matches between Bigs and Littles are selected from a matrix of possibilities, our professional staff is able to make those “perfect matches” – which helps them last longer. Studies have shown that the longer a match lasts, the greater and more positive its impact is on the child.

While an entire blog post could be devoted to the unknowns regarding the time commitment required to be a Big, the actual time spent with a Little isn’t supposed to feel like adding more things into your life. The best time you can have with a Little is simply including them in the things that you are already doing: making dinner, having a bonfire, planting flowers, working on your car, going grocery shopping – the normal things you do every day. Big Brothers Big Sisters asks for a minimum of 1 to 2 visits totaling 4 to 8 hours per month. Think about how much time it takes you to do the things I mentioned every month. Wouldn't it be more fun if you could have a friend alongside you while you’re checking all those things off during your routine? Someone who is excited to be there because they’re there with YOU?

All of our Bigs come from many walks of life, but that’s a great thing because our Littles come from all walks of life as well. And because we strive to pick adults and children who have things in common, there is always something to talk about — especially something that you enjoy talking about!

The great thing is, this approach is working. Big Brothers Big Sisters of Elkhart County has experienced a 22 percent increase in volunteers signing up to become Bigs and Littles from last year to this year – AND they are sticking around. The friendships we introduce are lasting, on average, 34 months.

So, is it hard to recruit mentors? The hardest part is getting people to see past the unknown, to get through to the part when they meet their Littles for the first time. Because after Bigs see their Littles’ eyes light up, listen to their laughs and have a really fun times getting to know them, the hardest part is imagining what life would be like if they never said yes to doing something BIG through mentoring.

If you're ready to say yes to becoming a Big Brother, Big Sister, Big Couple or Big Family in a child's life, visit www.bbbselkhart.org for an application to get started.

Would you like to become a community blogger for The Elkhart Truth? Get in touch with community manager Ann Elise Taylor at ataylor@elkharttruth.com.

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