Big Brothers Big Sisters of Greater Charlotte has been in operation for approximately 40 years, serving thousands of children in Mecklenburg and Cabarrus counties who come from a variety of situations, including single-parent households, having an incarcerated parent, or with a parent in the military.
While they serve several children from the Latino community, unfortunately there typically are not enough Latino volunteers to be Bigs for all the Latino Littles in the program. Striving to match Latino Littles with Latino Bigs demonstrates a key issue faced by Big Brothers Big Sisters agencies around the country.
Ileana Gonzales grew up in a Cuban family. Living in the United States, she felt that she was missing a connection to her Latino heritage, so she opted to look for opportunities to volunteer and serve the local Latino community. Eventually her search took her to Big Brothers Big Sisters of Greater Charlotte, where she would be matched with Miley Chávez, a 12-year-old girl born in the United States to her Mexican parents.
Miley’s parents were often too busy working, even over the weekends, to spend a lot of time with her. Before joining Big Brothers Big Sisters, she would spend her weekends watching television, bored. Getting past nerves on both sides, Ileana and Miley quickly grew to understand the positive impact their match would have on each other.
Often spending the day each Saturday together, Ileana and Miley would engage in a lot of fun and memorable activities together, including touring Ileana’s workplace, going to the movies, playing sports, and even doing some volunteer work in their community. Ileana enjoyed sharing in many “firsts” with Miley, and welcomed the chance to teach her more about potential opportunities in life, like going to college and living her life.
Their match has continued for several years now, so it is apparent that both Ileana and Miley are a significant part of each other’s lives. Big Brothers Big Sisters of Greater Charlotte, and agencies around the country, actively seek out Latino volunteers to become Bigs. Latino Littles need someone from their own community to look up to, to show them how to lead successful lives and improve their behavior and self-esteem.