A Mom’s Perspective: “It Takes a Village to Raise a Child”.
Alithea Casimir had been let down by other mentoring programs before. Although she knew how to instill important values about education and determination in her sons, she couldn’t provide them with that strong, positive male role model that they really needed. “It takes a village to raise a child” she says, and having a Big Brother for her sons only provided them with more people to love them and care for them. Read more on her perspective below!
Why did you decide to sign your sons up for Big Brothers Big Sisters?
We participated in a college program with a different organization originally and it wasn’t a big commitment from them or a good experience for us. I felt very slighted by the program because here was another man who was not going to be there or be accountable for being there for my son. So I decided to go to BBBSMB because I knew it was reputable, I knew what they put into each match. Even after being in the program, I felt like BBBSMB definitely goes above and beyond my expectations.
Were you nervous about welcoming a Big Brother into your family?
No. I’m really into observation and just getting to know people. We were open to it and excited. For me the biggest part was watching AliJah go through it and seeing how he felt. It just worked out that we were so open to each other. We were all genuinely open to it and wanted it. This past Christmas we gave Brendan some homemade jam and a mug so he feels very much apart of the family. It’s go with the flow but still very much welcoming.
How has Brendan and AliJah’s relationship changed from the first time they were matched until now, and more importantly how has your relationship with Brendan changed?
They speak a lot more uninhibited. One time when they were first matched they went out and I pulled Brendan aside and said, “Can you talk to him about something he did in class that was disruptive?” I thought maybe he could find out why AliJah was doing that. Brendan was like oh okay and when they came back he pulled me aside and said, “I really didn’t know what to say to him.” It was cool because he was comfortable enough to be like, yeah I didn’t know what to do. At the end of the day he is not his dad but he is another male that I can count on. AliJah talks to Brendan openly, Brendan talks and listens to AliJah. AliJah just got a phone so now they text each other and arrange their meetings a lot and then confirm with me. In terms of initiating communication they are a lot less inhibited.
Have you seen changes in AliJah now that he has been matched with Brendan? What kinds of changes?
Yes, definitely yes! He’s more open to seeing things from different perspectives. It’s one thing coming from me, his mom, but another coming from Brendan and he feels like he gets him. Brendan just gives him that perspective without having any pressure on him. It’s really natural and they talk about things like school, sports, and the stress he’s going through with his academic program right now. Check out Brendan and AliJah’s match story here.
Would you recommend BBBSMB to other families?
Oh definitely, I do it all the time!
What would you tell other families who are thinking of applying to the program?
Do it now, because depending on their area there is a huge waiting list. I know I’ve talked to families who have reservations about the backgrounds and I tell them the background checks are very thorough. The Bigs are committing to it for a full year. I remind them that it can add so much value to their child’s life. I just pretty much speak to our experience with the program and it’s been a great one. Malcolm has been matched twice, unfortunately, but thanks to the program he’s been able to get through that and is enjoying his match with Reed now. BBBSMB supported our whole family during that time.
What tips do you have for other families who just joined the program and are getting to know their Big Brother?
Go at your own pace because at the end of the day you have to be comfortable, it has to be natural. It has to be organic. Make sure you are considering the investment in your child’s future. So schedule a check-in or lunch with your child’s Big one on one and get to know them better. That will make you more comfortable supporting the match, whatever it takes to get to know your Big. And remember to put in work because it is a relationship. It’s one between the Little and the Big that grows better and richer when the family is involved.
From your perspective what is the best thing you and your family have gained from your experience with BBBS?
More people to love and more people who love my boys and care about them and that’s what kids need. I firmly believe that it takes a village to raise a child. Everyone is invested. Everybody wants the best. Look at how many people are invested in making sure that you’re comfortable with the match and your child is in good hands.
Why do you think having a mentor is so important to young boys?
I think all young people could benefit from mentors. Young boys, especially young boys of color, go through so many issues in how to identify themselves. Being able to identify with another male who has gone through the murky waters of boyhood helps. I also think it’s important for a young boy to have a mentor because they can help guide them through that time of their life especially if they don’t already have a male role model in their lives. Those two outings a month mean so much to a young boy, it just helps them grow up. It is extremely important for their confidence, well-being, and physical health.
Explain your experience with the Family Council and why you decided to join?
It has been really fruitful. We’ve planned for the long-term and I’m looking forward to what more we can do. I feel really honored to have been asked to participate. We created a vision and mission and we’re actually able to see our work now and that’s good. We have the new facebook page and the Lunch ‘n Learns. There is so much more we can do. Overall, it’s been very rewarding for me. Our council gives a voice to the parents. As parents, we represent a different part of the organization that holds it all together and we’re learning from each other.