There are 15 million children in the U.S. who are waiting on someone like you to decide to make a difference. To find out how digital professionals can help improve the lives of these children, we spoke with Lowell Perry, Jr. Perry is the Chief Diversity Officer and Senior Vice President, Corporate and Community Engagement for Big Brother Big Sisters of America.
What does Big Brothers Big Sisters do?
Our mission is to help children overcome adversity through one-to-one relationships with positive mentors. Some of these kids come low-income single parent homes. Some have a parent who is incarcerated. Others may have a parent that’s deployed overseas in the military. Often it’s a combination of those factors. There are a lot of obstacles that stand between these kids and the American Dream. We want to provide these children with positive, attentive influences who can help them get on or stay on the path to success.
And we’ve found, time and again, that the program works. It helps kids feel better about themselves and makes them less likely to engage in risky behavior. They’re less likely to abuse substances. They more likely to stay in school and pursue education. A lot of them become the first in their families to go to college or even graduate high school.
You spent most of your career in the corporate world. How did the move into the non-profit space happen for you?
It came at a time in my life when I was looking for something more significant. I found myself thinking a lot about what my legacy would be. My wife always told me that I should use my skills to help people, but I was still looking for the right outlet. She saw an ad for BBBS and read it aloud to me. We both realized right away that it was where I needed to be.
Was it your first experience with BBBS?
No, I was actually introduced to BBBS when i was a sophomore at Yale. BBBS was advertising for big brothers in the black student union, and I signed up. I got matched up with a young man named David. He lived close to campus and would come visit my friends and me in the dorm. This was a time when most of the people of color at Yale were staff, not students. I tried my best to expose David to the value of education and made sure he knew that if he worked hard, he could study there like me. The whole experience had a pretty profound effect on me.
Suppose I volunteered to be a Big Brother. What would I do, exactly?
You would spend time with a child and work to become a positive influence in that child’s life. When people want to sign up to be a Big, we ask them to commit to an hour a week for one year. How they spend that hour is up to them. They can have lunch with their Little Brother or Sister, help them with their homework, shoot hoops, whatever. But what’s important is time. That’s what these kids are craving. One hour a week, or about 48 hours a year. That’s it. You don’t change your life — you just include the child in it.
The people who are going to be reading this have serious digital skills. How can they use these to help BBBS?
One thing they can do is to expose their Little Brother or Sister to the broader digital world. Show them the possibilities that come with that kind of education and career. Another thing they can do is work with ReuniteNow.org. We’re building a platform for reconnecting Big and Littles who might have lost touch over the years. Digital professionals can contribute to this by donating what we call “time, talent, or treasure.” They should call their local agency and tell them that they want to use their digital skills to help. I can guarantee that there will be no shortage of ways for them to get involved.for their digital skills.
There are 339 Big Brothers Big Sisters agencies around the U.S. Contact your local agency and make this the year you get involved.