Mentorship: Small Moments Can Create a Big Impact
with Adam Vasallo of Big Brothers Big Sisters of America
The gap between mentorship and youth who need it most continues to widen —often due to misconceptions about the time and expertise needed to become a mentor.
Adam Vasallo, Chief Marketing Officer of Big Brothers Big Sisters of America, joins host Tetiana Anderson to discuss a new campaign that spotlights ways that little moments of mentorship can make a big impact on the lives of young people.
January 04, 2024
Anderson: One-third of American children are growing up without a positive adult mentor in their lives. Studies show that kids with positive role models often perform better in school and have more developed interpersonal and decision-making skills. Hello, and welcome to "Comcast Newsmakers." I'm Tetiana Anderson. While research supports the benefits of mentorship, there are more than 30,000 kids, a majority being young boys of color, on Big Brothers Big Sisters of America's mentor wait list. Joining me to discuss this gap between mentorship and youth who need it most, and a new effort to shift perceptions of what it actually takes to be a mentor is Adam Vasallo. He is the Chief Marketing Officer of Big Brothers Big Sisters of America. And, Adam, thank you so much for being here.
Vasallo: Tetiana, thank you so much for having me.
Anderson: Okay, let's start with the benefits of this. How do the Littles, who are the young people who are part of this program, really come out better for having a Big, or a mentor?
Vasallo: Tetiana, our mission is evidence-based, and you just mentioned it. Studies of Big Brothers Big Sisters show that young people matched with a mentor in our program are performing better in the classroom. They're establishing and building better relationships with their family and their peers. And outside in the real world, they're making better decisions. They're avoiding risky behaviors. Big Brothers Big Sisters of America was founded in New York City in 1904, so we have 119 years of experience, of stories of impact and stories of empowerment. But one way I'll connect it, because your question was, "How do young people feel?" We're all -- all of us are the product of mentorship. None of us are self-made. We've had a caring, positive adult in our lives. And, you know, for -- for many it's been a parent, but it's also been, you know, a neighbor in your neighborhood. It's a teacher. It's a coach. It's a -- It's a dance teacher, perhaps. But we all have these stories of mentorship. And so, if we all think back at that caring, positive adult who just lent us a little time, we can remember and we can quickly ground ourselves in the power of mentorship and the importance of -- of empowering young people.
Anderson: So we know this works. It works so well you have 30,000 young people on the list waiting for a mentor. So, what's the disconnect when it comes to finding Bigs for all these Littles out there?
Vasallo: Yes, the disconnect is common misconceptions about -- about mentorship. We started a comprehensive research on the alumni of our program, the Alumni Littles, the Alumni Bigs, but we also dug in on the prospective volunteers in our mission. And what we found were that there were barriers that were identified, kind of key themes. And there were two barriers that were identified. One was what we call the barrier of time. And the barrier of time is exactly what we know -- individuals that would make the -- would be ideal candidates to be a volunteer mentor say they're busy with their family life, social, weekends, their jobs. All of the things that take up time in our everyday lives are the reasons that they can't be a mentor. The second barrier is this, what we call the burden of mentorship. And there's a thought amongst a large audience that could be great volunteer Bigs in our program that you have to have superpowers, or you have to have a college degree just to be a mentor. And nothing could be further from the truth. What we know from our years of experience is that the best mentors are present and persistent, and it doesn't take much time to make a difference.
Anderson: And you're actually a mentor yourself. Tell us just a little bit about your experience, and how you decided even to get involved.
Vasallo: Tetiana, I'll start even with the bigger picture, because I'm one of the volunteer Bigs around the country. What we know in that research is we talk to volunteer Alumni Bigs and Alumni Littles. Whether or not they were a mentor, the caring adult in our -- in our program, or the young person enrolled, which we call the Little, what we know is that 90% say that of our -- of our Bigs, the adults, 90% say that they got more out of the experience than they think their Little did. So, this is -- this is a two -- mentorship is a two-way street. And my experience is exactly reflective of that. I volunteered in my early 20s. I was -- at the time I wasn't married, but I became a Big Brother to my first Little Brother, Adrian, when he was in the sixth grade. We were matched for seven years, until he graduated from high school, and went on to be a college football player. Today, Adrian is a father of two beautiful girls. We're still friends to this day. And Adrian has actually spent time volunteering in my own son's flag football league. And so, these are full circles, but it speaks to the ripple effect that mentorship brings, and making our communities stronger and more connected than ever.
Anderson: I had a Big Sister when I was young, so I can I can second everything you're saying. And if there are adults out there who are watching this, who are thinking of getting involved in the program, what do you want to tell them?
Vasallo: I want to tell them that, at Big Brothers Big Sisters, um, it doesn't take much to make an impact. In fact, it takes little to be big, which is our new campaign. And we've created a really easy landing page for anybody that's interested to get involved to visit. It's called www.Bebignow.org. If you visit the page, you can get involved. You can share a story, your own personal story of mentorship, and encourage others to become volunteers. Most importantly, you can sign up to become a volunteer. You'll be connected to the local Big Brothers Big Sisters in your community. Remember, there's 230 local Big Brothers Big Sisters across the United States. We reach all 50 states, collectively serving more than 5,000 communities. So, you have a Big Brothers Big Sisters near you, and you have what it takes to make a big impact on the life of a young person.
Anderson: So, if people want to know more, either about this or all of the work that your organization does, what is the website? Where can they go?
Vasallo: Yeah. Bebignow.org is -- is the website to visit. It'll start your experience, and you'll -- you'll -- you'll get everything you need to be a great Big.
Anderson: Adam Vasallo, with Big Brothers Big Sisters of America. Thank you so much for being here.
Vasallo: Thank you.
Anderson: And thanks to you, as well for watching. As always, for more great conversations with leaders in your own community and across the country, visit Comcastnewsmakers.com. I'm Tetiana Anderson. ♪♪ ♪♪