South County Beat: Cycle of youth mentoring seen in ‘Big’ pairings

Brianna Boydstun remembers what it felt like to be paired up with a “big” when she was 7 years old.

For three years, Boydstun spent time with a college student who became “kind of like the big sister I never had,” she said this week. Her mentor took her on trips, including to the Monterey Bay Aquarium, listened to her and offered support.

Now 16 years old and a junior at Nipomo High School, Boydstun is volunteering for the third year with the same program that helped her: Big Brothers Big Sisters of San Luis Obispo County.

Boydstun is one of 35 high school and college students who mentor a Nipomo Elementary School student. The program at the school started in March 2008 with 15 students and has grown to serve about 35 students this year.

The program at Nipomo Elementary recently received an $8,500 grant from PG&E, which will pay for the program at the school, including mentor training, supervision, activity supplies and snacks.

The school-based mentoring program is one of three that Big Brothers Big Sisters runs to pair adult mentors with community youth. The majority of children in the programs come from low-income, single-parent homes.

“A lot of these kids don’t have an older sibling,” said Dawn Wells, coordinator of the Bright Futures program at Nipomo Elementary. “Even through it’s just an hour, (the program) gives them some one-on-one time. They look forward to the end of the week, to have fun and play games.”

Teachers and volunteers report that a vast majority of children in the programs behave better in the classroom, have improved their academic performance and display more self-confidence, said Anna Boyd-Bucy, executive director of Big Brothers Big Sisters of San Luis Obispo County. The older students benefit, too, by becoming role models and developing leadership skills, she said.

The mentors travel to Nipomo Elementary once a week for the school year to meet with their students to help with homework, play board games or sports, or just talk.

Boydstun spends a lot of time playing tag, kickball and dodgeball with the 10-year-old boy she is mentoring this year.

Another Nipomo High student, senior Mayan Martinez, said the second-grade student she’s mentoring wants help on math problems. Martinez, who joined the program her freshman year, said it has made her more responsible.

“I know I have to be there for my ‘little’ every Friday,” she said. “It’s a combination of having fun, and being responsible and a good person at the same time.”

Big Brothers Big Sisters is also in the middle of a campaign to raise $100,000 by the end of the year to fund its programs. So far, the organization has raised $67,000.

The organization was founded in the county in 1995 and last year served more than 400 children. For more information on how to support Big Brothers Big Sisters, contact Boyd Bucy at 781-3226 or anna@slobigs.org, or go to www.slobigs.org.

Cynthia Lambert and Gayle Cuddy write the South County Beat column on alternating Wednesdays. Reach Cynthia Lambert at 781-7929. Stay updated by following @SouthCountyBeat on Twitter.