Wednesday, January 10, 2018

Month 13: Big Brothers Big Sisters of Flagstaff

My relationship with Big Brothers Big Sisters of Flagstaff (BBBSF) began in a deeply personal way, and conjures a lot of memories for me. In the Fall of 2007, I found myself often staring at walls while two toddler children clung to what felt like every space of my skin. I was a stay-at-home mom with two toddler-aged children only 15 months apart in age. The previous three years had been spent traveling back and forth with them from Flagstaff to Richmond, VA to be with my mother who was dying of Stage 4 breast cancer. After she passed quietly in our family home, on July 17, 2007, I came back to Flagstaff full time, and felt, well….not much. A dear friend suggested community volunteerism as something to get me out of the house, as well as a way to honor my mother who dedicated much of her adult life to service.  

My friend suggested board work for BBBSF. I was tentative, and I forced myself to push back against the emotional and physical inertia I was feeling, and attended a meeting for potential board members. 

I walked into the room and felt panicky. A woman who I knew only by reputation walked over and captured me in a giant bear hug and welcomed me in her booming voice. This was Kay McKay, a Flagstaff titan, and founder of BBBSF with her husband, Dave. Her warmth reminded me so much of my mom, that I immediately (embarrassingly) started crying. Within 15 minutes, all four of us women in the room were crying and had agreed to dedicate our time and service to the mission of BBBSF. 

I tell you this because while of course this entry is not and should not be about me, this is a beloved agency in Flagstaff that was founded on the guiding principles of not only mentorship, but also community and compassion. My first experience with BBBSF was literally being embraced by a woman who was a mentor to me, and I’m certain to hundreds of other people in Flagstaff. 

Fast forward to Month 13 of 48months…. After the New Year, Jacki and I had the pleasure of meeting with Kelly Elliott, CEO of BBBSF, and Neil Weintraub, longtime board member, big brother, advocate, and general Flagstaff icon.  

The mission of BBBSF is to help children succeed by matching them with appropriate adult mentors.  

BBBSF just celebrated its 50th anniversary and currently has over 130 children matched with appropriate adult mentors. Last year over 300 children were served. Over 30% of children served are impacted by incarceration, and over 50% live below the federal poverty level.  

From the BBBSF website: 
Researchers found that after 18 months of spending time with their Bigs, the Little Brothers and Little Sisters, compared to those children not in our program, were: 

46% less likely to begin using illegal drugs  
27% less likely to begin using alcohol  
52% less likely to skip school  
37% less likely to skip a class  
33% less likely to hit someone  

They also found that the Littles were more confident of their performance in schoolwork and getting along better with their families. 

This mission is accomplished via the following programs: 

Community-Based Mentoring 
This is the most traditional program associated with BBBSF, consisting of one-on-one mentoring. Children are matched between the ages of 7 and 15 years, and can stay in the program until they are 18. Bigs” are fully vetted and matched with children, who are often on a waiting list for 6-18 months. Boys tend to wait longer, as it is harder to recruit men as Big Brothers. Bigs are requested to make a one-year commitment and meet weekly with their “Littles” for a couple of hours. BBBSF has many community partners that donate passes and tickets to help with activities for Bigs/Littles. There is no expense invovled for the “Big."  If BBBSF cannot get activities donated, they use fundraising dollars to help purchase what is needed. BBBSF offers professional match support for Bigs, Littles and the families of Littles. This is to insure child safety, as well as to make sure the match is working.

School-Based Mentoring 
This program currently exists at five school sites in northern Arizona (Killip, Kinsey, Thomas, Marshall, and Williams). Children meet with their Bigs in a school setting (sometimes in groups) for 12 weeks in the Fall and 12 weeks in the Spring. High school students (aged 16+) are encouraged to sign up as Bigs for this program. 

Step-Up Mentoring 
This is a group mentoring program through the Coconino County Juvenile Court. Groups are for children who are currently in Juvenile Detention as well as those on probation. Data shows a significant reduction in re-offending in children who participate in the program. 


January is National Mentoring Month! Here are the ways you can get involved …. TODAY!


BBBSF has so many available volunteer opportunities. There is truly something for everybody. If your New Year’s resolution was to give back and get involved, this is the place for you!
  • Volunteer to be a Big. DUDES, we really need you. There are dozens of male children in Flagstaff waiting for you. Run, do not walk, to the website and request more information. Ladies, we need you too as Bigs. Sign up and encourage the men in your life to do the same. 
  • Volunteer for events (see fundraising below) 
  • Look into joining the BBBSF board. It’s primarily a fundraising board and it’s one of the most effective in town. 
  • BBBSF is an AZ Charitable Tax Credit organization. Visit this link and donate today. All of your cash donations qualify. 
  • BBBSF has some of the best fundraising events in town… they have this dialed IN, y’all. Check it out: 
    1. Bowl For Kids’ Sake coming up on February 24. Get your workplace, family or friend team together and come out for lots of fun, raffle prizes, and obviously bowling alley food and beer. 
    2. Golf Tournament (May/June TBD). If golf is where you find your joy, plan to participate. This is super fun with lots of activities and prizes along the course. 
    3. Dave McKay Memorial Half Marathon and 5KY’all know that Jacki and I are elite runners, I mean wine drinkers. This is my favorite race of the season. The incredibly dedicated Board members line the course with the best snacks of any local race, music, cheering, and a water cup “poll” at the midpoint of the half marathon course. The views of the Peaks and the often epic (muddy) conditions cannot be rivaled.  
    4. Neil is going to tell y’all more about the Summer Running Series and the Soulstice Soulstice Mountain Trail Race and how they support BBBSF next week, so stay tuned for more ideas on this front. 

Clothes for Kids’ Sake is a wonderful partnership with Savers. It funds approximately 1/3 of BBBSFs programs. There are 19 bins around town. It’s simple. Donate your clothing, furniture, and household goods to Savers. They in turn pay BBBSF by the pound for all of the goods received. They will even come to your house or place of business to pick up! The added bonus is that unlike some thrift stores, Savers actively recycles items that they cannot sell. This is truly one of the gems in our town and an incredibly easy way to give back. 

As we wrapped up our meeting, Kelly shared with us that the agency’s goals moving forward are to establish longer and stronger matches. They want to grow the school-based mentoring sites they have and expand to other locations. Kelly told us, “Everything we do goes back to the kids, and the importance of having adults they can count on in their lives.” 

Kelly admitted that she feels a bit nervous about the future, given the unpredictable state of our world. “Our goal is to work from the great legacy of the McKays, and continue to work smarter with partnerships, volunteers, and community.” 

Neil and Kelly both told us that they feel strongly that Flagstaff does community better than most. Everything is dependent on relationships, and BBBSF has worked hard to partner with other nonprofits to operate more efficiently rather than make everything a competition for limited dollars. 

BBBSF represents the best of our community, and I challenge each and every one of you to find a way that you can help this agency, which is undeniably changing the lives of children.  

The people at the heart of this agency are the best of the best. Even as a grown woman, I was able to find mentoring at a dark time in my life. The relationships that I built during my service on the BBBSF board are ones that have followed me personally and professionally over the last 10+ years, even as my time on the board came to a close. Find a way to get involved; be the light in a child’s life, and my guess is that you will benefit as much, if not more, than they do. 

For more information on BBBBSF, please visit

-Cristy Z.

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