State's two Big Brothers Big Sisters programs merge; seek volunteers

Two long-standing youth mentoring programs in Connecticut have merged, and the new group needs the public's help to create more matches than ever before.
Big Brothers Big Sisters of Southwestern Connecticut and Nutmeg Big Brothers Big Sisters are now one organization - Big Brothers Big Sisters of Connecticut. President and CEO Andy Fleischmann said the merger is meant to allow staff to reach more kids throughout the state.
"We're going to be able to have more people in the field interviewing children and families, interviewing adult volunteers, and making matches of mentors and kids," Fleischmann told News 12.
He said pre-pandemic, about 1,500 kids ages five through young adulthood were paired up with a Big Brother or Sister.
"The numbers shrank a bit during the pandemic largely because we work with schools and schools were so overwhelmed, they weren't able to make the same level of referrals that they had been doing prior," Fleischmann said.
Now Big Brothers Big Sisters of Connecticut is ready to hit and maybe surpass those pre-pandemic numbers, but the program needs more volunteers. Fleischmann said there's unfortunately a waitlist of kids who want to take part.
"We have people who say, 'Gee I don't know that much about young kids. I don't have kids of my own. I'm not sure if I'm qualified.' And the response is, if you have the care and concern and you're ready to dedicate yourself to what's best for that child, then you're the right person for us," Fleischmann explained.
He said "Bigs" are asked to spend a few hours a week with their "Littles," which can have immediate effects and ones down the road.
"You can just see what a joy it is for the young people we serve. And then, if you're looking long term, all sorts of third party peer reviewed studies have shown that a child who receives at least one year of high quality mentoring ends up less likely to undertake risky behaviors like trying drugs or alcohol, more likely to stay in school and not skip class and not get into behavioral difficulties, more likely to graduate high school and get a higher degree, and more likely to have a better level of income and a stable home life." Fleischmann said.
He added that the program is a tool to help the with the major children's mental health crisis going on right now.
"There's little you can do that's more helpful for a child than spending time with them and supporting them. In our organization we found in 2020 that levels of anxiety and depression were skyrocketing in the spring as the pandemic started and that, by the fall, we had managed to cut those levels profoundly," Fleischmann recalled.
He reiterated those results are why the organization is so dedicated to getting more people to volunteer. Fleischmann also told News 12 men with diverse backgrounds are especially needed. To learn more about the program and how to get involved, click here