Cleveland Business Connects

For immediate release (October 6, 2017) Media Contact: Judy Abelman Email: abelmancommunications@gmail.com Phone: 440.725.8861...

With more than 25 years of social work to her credit, Yolanda Armstrong isn’t lacking in experience as the president and CEO of Big Brothers Big Sisters of Greater Cleveland. Appointed on Oct. 1, 2014, she readily relates to her “bigs” (mentors) and “littles” (mentees), having experienced life from both perspectives. This year is an exciting one for Armstrong, as BBBS-GC is celebrating its 60th anniversary.

Q: You’ve got your Bigs; you’ve got your Littles. Would you describe each party in a nutshell while explaining how they work with another to play out the organization’s mission?

A: Big Brothers Big Sister of Greater Cleveland has been serving the youth and families of Cuyahoga County for the past 60 years. BBBS-GC’s mission is to provide children facing adversity with strong and enduring, professionally supported one-to-one relationships that change their lives for the better forever. By partnering with parents/guardians, volunteers and community agencies, BBBS-GC is accountable for each child in our program achieving success in life — higher aspirations, greater confidence, better relationships and educational achievement. BBBS-GC is always seeking responsible adults to serve as volunteers to the youth and families that seek out our program services. Volunteering opportunities are available for community- and school-based mentoring programs. Community-based mentoring requires volunteers to commit to a minimum of four hours a month interacting with a designated youth. School-based mentoring is designed for the volunteer that has time during the day to give back — maybe being a lunch buddy and/or providing group mentoring to coding students, just to name a few.

Q: When it comes to the Littles experiencing the city and region, you’re reliant on the generosity of other groups. What companies and organizations have been exceptionally helpful?

A: We have been blessed to receive support from so many companies and organizations that I don’t even know where to begin. Off the top of my head I must say United Way Services, Key Bank, Cleveland Foundation, Dominion, Alcoa, Dollar Bank, United Black Fund, and Starting Point have been phenomenal with their ongoing financial support in making sure BBBS-GC’s mission is a reality. The Metroparks Zoo gives us free tickets every year that we give to our Bigs, Littles, and their families to share in a wonderful experience that the zoo has to offer, and it’s also the place where BBBS-GC holds its annual 5K Race at the Zoo, which this year will be held on Oct. 1 for those interested in participating. Harry Brownfield from Fideli Group has been great in sponsoring our annual BBBS-GC Brownfield Memorial Golf Event, which this year will be held on Sept. 19 for those readers who are interested in participating and enjoying a day of golfing while helping to raise monies to support the work that BBBS-GC does. We are so blessed to have great partnerships with college students from Case Western Reserve, Baldwin Wallace, Cleveland State, and John Carroll universities. Sigma Phi Epsilon Fraternity has been great in volunteering their time to hold third-party fundraisers on our behalf and helping us seek out potential mentors on college campuses. The Cleveland Browns, Cleveland Indians, and Cleveland Cavaliers have been great in giving our Bigs and Littles tickets to their games, T-shirts, and food vouchers — as well as having their ongoing support for our Sports Bowl, where the Browns and Indians continue to have a fun rivalry bowling against each other for the BBBS-GC Awesome Bowling Team of the Year title. These are just a few, so if I’ve forgotten anyone, charge it to my mind and not my heart. We appreciate all past, present, and future support that BBBS-GC receives.

Q: How can outside organizations get involved with Big Brothers Big Sisters?

A: We are always recruiting adult mentors, and if folks are committed to giving a minimum of four hours a month mentoring a child or volunteering at our partnering schools during the day, they are welcome to start the process of becoming a mentor by contacting BBBS-GC at (216) 621-8223 or contacting Rebecca.Shofar@WeMentorYouth.org. And don’t forget to let us know how they heard about our organization.

Q: What type of recruitment efforts have you instituted?

A: We presently recruit Bigs and Littles by attending various community fairs and church events, and companies, such as Alcoa and Eaton, have invited us during their lunch hours to present our organization and recruitment. We have opened and are open to setting up recruitment and marketing tables at various churches, such as Mt. Zion of Oakwood Village, who allowed us to recruit Bigs and Littles in December and January. We’ve also presented at various sorority and fraternity monthly meetings. If someone wants us at their event, they can contact Andrea Ehasz, our marketing and events manager, at Andrea.Ehasz@WeMentorYouth.org or call her directly at (216) 452-5215.

Q: What can you tell us about the mentoring program you recently started?

A: Well, there are several programs that have begun and continue until the end of the school year. Our Richmond Heights Code.org program is in partnership with the Richmond Heights School District, United Black Fund, Great Lakes Science Center, and several other community partners that focus on teaching youth computer coding and are supported by professional mentors in a group mentoring setting. The program serves youth in fifth grade to eighth grade and 10th-graders. Our Warrensville Heights Peer to Peer after-school mentoring program is in partnership with The Students of Promise, where high school students give back by mentoring youth in the sixth-, seventh-, and eighth-grades. The student mentors focus on helping their mentees with tutoring, building character, goal setting, and other areas of youth development. This program is supported by Starting Point and Children’s First Council.

Q: Are there any other initiatives that you are especially proud of since joining the organization a year and a half ago?

A: I am very proud of all of our mentoring programs, whether mentoring youth who are transitioning out of foster care to serving youth in our school-based mentoring programs, such as Jamison Intermediate. I’m especially proud of our Amachi program. The Amachi mentoring program was developed to provide youth with an incarcerated parent with a different path by establishing the consistent presence of loving, caring mentors. Youth who participate in this program are less likely to follow in their parent’s path into jail or prison. We are always recruiting mentors for our various program services and would like to invite those interested in making a difference in a child’s life. Another initiative that will be introduced soon to the public that we have been working on behind the scenes for about a year and a half is our Bigs in Blue program. The tentative start date for this program will be June 1 and will focus on law enforcement mentoring youth a minimum of four hours a month in the community. BBBS-GC believes that it is important for our youth and law enforcement to build a positive relationship that will create life-changing friendships.

Q: The group’s 60th anniversary is coming up. What types of festivities are in store?

A: BBBS-GC is so excited to have our national president, Pam Iorio, in town on May 10 and have planned a beautiful welcome reception to acknowledge her visit. We have invited our funders, community partners, Bigs and Littles to this wonderful event that is being hosted by Dominion and McDonald Hopkins. On May 12 we will have our Denim and Diamond 60th Anniversary Celebration at Progressive Field and celebrate 60 years of service in providing mentoring support to thousands of youth in Cuyahoga County as well as recognize all of our Littles who are graduating from high school. This is a fundraising event that will allow BBBS-GC to provide scholarships for those graduating Littles. If anyone is interested in attending any of our events, contact our office at (216) 621-8223. On June 4 we will be hosting our Annual Bowl For Kids’ Sake Community Day, where everyone is invited to fundraise on our behalf and Bowl for Kids’ Sake.

Q: What type of vision do you have for the organization moving forward?

A: My vision for the future for BBBS-GC is to make sure that the work that we do continues to be meaningful and impactful, that we work toward sustainability, and have a strong and committed board and staff that work diligently in making sure that BBBS-GC and its services remain relevant and focused on our children throughout Cuyahoga County. Parent engagement is a must when it comes to supporting our Bigs and Littles. Creating life-changing friendships is what we do.

Q: How did you get involved in helping youth?

A: I have spent 25 years in the helping profession of social work. My focus in serving youth came about three years into this field, when I realized that many of the adults that I was counseling had issues when they were younger and were not addressed. It was then that I decided that my life’s goal was to serve youth from many different walks of life in making sure that whatever obstacles/challenges they were facing would be addressed then and not when they became adults. I would not be where I am today if I didn’t have wonderful grandparents to take me in and raise me as their own. My grandmother wanted the best for me and allowed positive people in my life to guide me — actually, to mentor me. I always tell people that I am a “We baby” because so many people who saw something good in me when I didn’t see it myself wanted to help motivate and inspire me to want more and do better. I think if people stop and think about where they are today in their lives, they may agree that they didn’t get there on their own, but that someone helped them along the way. It is then that I hope that they find it in their heart and decide to mentor a child. 

For more information: wementoryouth.org

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