Big Brothers Big Sisters & Best Friends Join Forces to Help More Families

Big Brothers Big Sisters of the Fox Valley Region and Best Friends of Neenah-Menasha merged on Jan. 1 to become one organization called Big Brothers Big Sisters of East Central Wisconsin.

The newly combined youth mentoring agency, which is located at 1331 American Dr., Neenah, will serve more than 650 youth in Calumet, Outagamie, Waupaca and Winnebago counties.

Best Friends mentors and their mentees play mini golf at Funset Boulevard in Appleton.

Jaime Kriewaldt, the executive director of Best Friends, is confident the merger will provide more opportunities for families and volunteers, ultimately becoming a stronger advocate for the importance of mentoring.

“Both organizations do great work and similar work,” she said. “By combining our financial and volunteer resources, we are certain that we can offer more mentoring opportunities for kids in the entire Valley. With a larger team, we can be more innovative with our programming and with our recruitment.”

Lindsay Fenlon, the executive director of Big Brothers Big Sisters, agrees.

“Never in my career have I seen a group of people – our boards of directors and current staff teams – so committed to a singular cause: creating a sustainable, effective and efficient youth-serving organization that would ignite life-changing friendships for any and every youth who was courageous enough to say, ‘I could use a friend right now,’” she said.

Research shows that mentors who spend time with youth and share new experiences and positive values help young people avoid negative behaviors and achieve success. In fact, youth with mentors have increased likelihood of going to college, better attitudes toward school, increased social and emotional development and improved self-esteem.

Currently, there are 150 kids waiting to be matched with a mentor. Kriewaldt notes that there likely are many more youth who would benefit from mentoring, but have not applied to the program.

Poverty plays a role.

According to United Way studies in 2016, more than one-third of households in Wisconsin could not afford basic needs such as housing, childcare, food, transportation and health care.  

“When a family is focused on securing basic needs, the emotional and psychological needs of the children within the household are often overlooked,” Kriewaldt said. “Without immediate and direct intervention, these youth are at a heightened risk for adverse childhood experiences that leave them more likely for mental health struggles, poor peer relationships, declining educational achievement and generational poverty.”

Becoming a mentor is very easy. Volunteers can mentor youth at a nearby school in their neighborhood, either before class or during their lunch hour. Community-based matches are made based on the volunteer’s availability. Volunteers can include the mentee in their daily activities, such as grocery shopping, walking to the park or simply hanging out with them. For many youth, just being able to sit down and have a family dinner is something that they don’t experience.

In 2019, six members of the Retired & Senior Volunteer 55+ Program mentored local youth. RSVP is sponsored by Volunteer Fox Cities, a nonprofit organization in Appleton that connects volunteers to community needs in the Fox Valley Region through outreach and education.

The merger of two vital youth mentoring agencies in the Fox Valley provides a great opportunity for volunteers to change the world for a youth. Volunteers are asked to make a one-year commitment to see their mentees at least two to four hours a month to make sure they are making a consistent connection with their mentee.

“We are excited to be turning a page in our agencies’ histories,” Fenlon said, “and welcome others to partner with us, with gifts of time, talent, or treasure, as we continue to work on defending the potential of every child in our community.”