Community Partners: City Connects and Big Brothers Big Sisters

To get the right services to the right child, City Connects relies on hundreds of community partners – from nonprofits and health centers to businesses and cultural organizations.

One of our longstanding community partners is Big Brothers Big Sisters of Massachusetts Bay.

Big Brothers provides mentors – or “Bigs” as the organization calls them – who serve as role models and friends for children (or “Littles”) in a one-on-one relationship.

The partnership between City Connects and Big Brothers strengthens this practice.

“We really work collaboratively,” Nora Leary explains. She’s Big Brothers’ Vice President for Program Services. “I think our goals are very similar: to help the kids in Boston Public Schools succeed, not just educationally, but also in all the other spheres of their life.”

This collaboration is informed by the whole class review that every City Connects coordinator does to look at the needs of each individual child. These reviews help coordinators get to know children and identify the ones would benefit from having a mentor. Coordinators then make the referral to Big Brother – increasing the number of Littles served – and they can share useful insights to help Big Brother make even stronger matches between Bigs and Littles.

Many Big/Little relationships happen in the community, but thanks to the City Connects/Big Brother partnership, we also run in-school programs where mentors meet with children during lunch or after-school programs. Leary says this helps Big Brother serve more children, including those whose lives may be too busy or challenging to schedule out-of-school-time appointments. In-school meetings also help children whose parents have limited English skills.

Personal connections fuel this community partnership. Coordinators share information with Bigs about school culture, current challenges, or good news – which helps Bigs have more impact. In one case, for a student who connects better during physical activities, a coordinator helped arrange opportunities for the Big and Little to go on walks and play basketball.

Coordinators also handle bumps in the road. When a school changed its lunch hour, threatening to make it impossible for Bigs with conflicting college schedules to meet with their Littles, coordinators stepped in. They wanted to help Littles maintain stable and positive relationships with their Bigs, so they used used their connections with teachers, administrators, and children to make sure the meetings occurred and the relationships could continue.

Another crucial ingredient in this partnership: City Connects and Big Brothers collaborate behind the scenes. We meet at the beginning and end of each school year to evaluate our partnership and how it can do more for children. In addition, a City Connects staff member ran a training session for Big Brother staff to share more information about how City Connects works in schools. And Leary participated on a panel for City Connects staff about how to work effectively with nonprofits.

As Leary says of the City Connects/Big Brother work: “We’re connected at all levels. The staff is connected. And I’m connected to the leadership at City Connects.”

The lesson of these connections is clear: strong partnerships result in positive connections for children, the kind that provide powerful benefits that led to future success.

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