For over 30 years, Big Brothers Big Sisters of Southwest Louisiana has been serving the area by connecting children facing adversity with caring volunteer mentors–called Bigs–in the community and within the schools through the Lunch Buddy and Reading Readiness programs. Today, BBBS-SWLA serves nearly 1,000 members of the community from their Littles to their Bigs to the families of the Littles.
Partnerships with industries and civic organizations are not new in BBBS-SWLA’s lengthy history; however, over the last year, BBBS-SWLA has formed a particularly significant partnership—four separate organizations came together to create a far-reaching and significant impact in Southwest Louisiana.
When Nicole Moncrief, human resources representative at Sasol, visited Combre-Fondel in the fall of 2015, she saw the need for a partner in education and an outside mentoring program to supplement their curriculum. Moncrief knew of BBBS-SWLA’s long standing history in the community as a mentoring organization and decided to start something BIG.
“Big Brothers Big Sisters of Southwest Louisiana was a great way to safely get some volunteers into the school to infuse the school with knowledge and resources they might not otherwise be exposed to,” she said. “It made sense to partner with them.”
Moncrief knows how important it is for children to learn to read and write and build confidence, not just to get through the school year, but to help them later on in life as well, “I work in HR and I know what you need to be able to be employed,” she said. “Even if you don’t want to be a doctor or a lawyer, no matter what industry you’re in, you need to be able to read and write and you need to do it well.”
When she brought the idea of getting involved with Combre-Fondel back to Sasol and Crystal Briscoe, internal communications and public affairs coordinator, Moncrief’s “little” idea became a ”big” reality.
Participation with BBBS-SWLA was not new for the company. “Sasol has contributed to BBBS for many years through volunteer activities,” she said. “We’ve provided teams and company donations for the annual Bowl for Kids’ Sake as well as encouraged employees to participate in the Lunch Buddy program.”
Fortunately, a surge in growth in the company has resulted in a surge in volunteerism as well. “With our current expansion, Sasol is well on our way to hiring more than 500 new employees,” Briscoe says. “Our hope is that as we grow, so will our “Sasol for Good” participation. Last year, we hosted an informal meet and greet with BBBS to offer our employees an opportunity to hear firsthand what the Lunch Buddy program entails and how impactful one can be through such a minimal time commitment.”
Through the Lunch Buddy and Reading Readiness programs, BBBS-SWLA matches volunteer Bigs with Littles in the school setting. They meet at least twice a month during either the lunch hour or during enrichment hours. The Bigs and Littles either just visit, or they work on homework and reading together. No matter what they’re doing, they have fun and the Littles’ lives are impacted!
The partnership between Sasol, Combre-Fondel and BBBS-SWLA was cemented when Sasol provided nearly 20 new volunteers in both the Westlake schools and Combre-Fondel, and donated $10,000 to the Lunch Buddy Program. Sasol also became an official Partner in Education with Combre-Fondel.
Not satisfied with the nearly 20 new volunteer mentors Sasol garnered through the newly-founded partnership with BBBS-SWLA, Moncrief continued her efforts by recruiting even more volunteers through the alumna group of her sorority, Delta Sigma Theta.
Delta Sigma Theta’s mission includes a strong focus on education, so for Moncrief, it was a logical step to include her sorority. The work didn’t scare her sisters, either; many of the members of her chapter are former educators.
“Literacy is one of the big thrusts for our sorority, so it was a natural fit,” said Moncrief. Delta Sigma Theta alumnae garnered new volunteers through their connections in the community as well as their own membership base.
The partnership has been a massive success in the eyes of Combre-Fondel principal Mildred Smith. “I see that the children are excited about it and look forward to seeing their Bigs because it seems like they’ve really established relationships with them,” she said. “Even the parents are excited. They’re seeing changes in their child—[and the children are] becoming more comfortable with expressing their feelings and thoughts.”
Combre-Fondel has no shortage of activities for their students—they have a low teacher-to-student ratio, a plethora of enrichment classes, several clubs that give children the opportunity to get involved—but there’s always room for just a little bit more.
“They are familiar with their teachers and us,” says Smith. “But they feel like this is someone who really cares about just them.”
Heather Hohensee, executive director of BBBS-SWLA, says the future seems bright due to these new partnerships with Sasol, Combre-Fondel, and Delta Sigma Theta.
“We are very fortunate to have such solid community and business partners,” she said. “Without the resources they provide, both financially and in terms of volunteers, BBBS-SWLA would not be able to serve as many children and families as we do. We hope to reapply this successful model with others in the near future to continue to increase our resources and capacity and see our programs grow.”