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Leading the Way

By Lelia Duncan

For more than three decades, I have led non-profit organizations that provide services for children, youth and their families. Poverty is a pervasive problem that has devastating consequences for children and is associated with physical, emotional and mental health issues that persist into adulthood. Living in poverty creates trauma for children and makes it extremely difficult for them to focus on school. All children deserve a high-quality, equitable education and the opportunity to reach their full potential. That’s our mission with Big Brothers Big Sisters, and we work diligently to ensure that happens for our participants.

When I moved to Western North Carolina three years ago, I began consulting in the non-profit arena. It wasn’t long before I realized how much I missed working in the field with youth and witnessing lives changing. Joining the Big Brothers Big Sisters team is a dream come true. The volunteers, staff and supporters are nothing short of amazing. Their dedication and commitment to making sure every child has the opportunity to reach their potential while igniting their passion is unparalleled.

Spending an hour a week, our “Bigs” create a space where children have a mentor’s undivided attention. The program supports families by providing extra resources and another set of helping hands. Often the relationships between Bigs and Littles (children in the program) last for years. I know this first-hand because years ago, I was a Big and still keep in touch with my Little, who is now married with children.

Mentoring works. There are many studies which show that children who have a mentor in their lives perform better academically, have more self-confidence, demonstrate improved classroom behavior and have higher attendance. Our Littles have opportunities to develop life skills and enriching experiences.

In North Carolina, 36 percent of single-parent families with children live below the federal poverty level of $26,200 for a family of four. In the western counties, that can be as high as 43 percent. It is not surprising then that food insecurity impacts two out of every five children in our region. All of those factors can contribute to depression, anger, disengagement from school, poor school behavior and academic failure.

Mentoring can reduce depression in youth and boost academic performance and attitude towards school as well as provide wider social acceptance. Having a positive role model also builds resiliency, defined as a positive adaptation in the face of difficulties. These difficulties could be a result of family challenges, personal, or environmental factors such as violence in the neighborhood. When these difficulties are extreme, the results can be detrimental to a child’s mental and physical health, development, and future success.

If you have been considering volunteering, I encourage you to reach out to Big Brothers Big Sisters. It is a dynamic organization and there is a waiting list of children who desperately need and want someone to be there for them. There is no greater gratification than watching a young mind learn and knowing you are making a difference not only for that child but for their family as well. I hope you will take the next step and be the change.

Lelia Duncan is the new executive director for Big Brothers Big Sisters of Western North Carolina. The Mississippi native lives in Brevard and comes to the Asheville area from Jacksonville, Florida.  You can reach her by writing to leliad@bbbswnc.org.  For more information on how you can become involved, visit our website www.bbbswnc.org or call any of the program coordinators below.

BBBS Buncombe County: Jill Hartmann, 828-253-1470

BBBS Cherokee County: Gloria Dockery, 828-361-0989

BBBS Polk County: Tamara Black, 828-859-9230

BBBS Burke County: Nina Ervin, 829-475-9018

BBBS Haywood County: Martha Barksdale, 828-273-3601

BBBS Henderson County: Morgan Harris, 828-693-8153

BBBS Cashiers/Highlands: Danielle Hernandez, 828-399-9133

BBBS Swain County: Caitlin Quinnett, 828-736-7845