Chicago Sun-Times: Big Brothers Big Sisters to open 4 new mentoring sites across Chicago area

The organization hopes these offices will double its reach and provide mentorship for the region’s most vulnerable children.

By: Audrey Hettleman. Reposted from the Chicago Sun-Times. You can read the full article on the Sun-Times website here


The downtown office of Big Brothers Big Sisters of Metropolitan Chicago is a long way from many of the children it serves.

For some staffers, according to CEO Jeremy Foster, that meant driving more than 50 miles one way to set up programming in schools and other community spaces.

Now, the organization is attempting to localize its efforts, opening four regional offices spread around the greater Chicago area: in Auburn Gresham on the South Side; south suburban Homewood; Lake County; and northwest Indiana.

The locations were chosen based on need. Brand strategist Kristine Brown said another goal was to focus on parts of the service area where the organization hasn’t yet had a large presence. The expansion is part of “Drive for 5,” the group’s 2019 growth plan, which has a goal of supporting 5,000 children, up from roughly 1,500 now.

Each Little Brother or Sister is paired with a volunteer mentor, someone they can relate to.

Alsip resident Kevin Spriggs is a Big Brother to 15-year-old JaQuonn Willams. The pair have formed a strong relationship over the last five years, playing squash, going out to lunch and more.

Spriggs said the relationship has taught him to be more nurturing and has helped him stay up-to-date on current trends. He also saw how important it was for JaQuonn to have a mentor he could relate to. Seeing the positive effects the program had on both JaQuonn and himself gives Spriggs hope that the new offices could do the same for many more kids.

“It means a lot if you can speak my tongue. It means a lot if you can identify with where I grew up, or identify with these colloquialisms or whatever it is,” Spriggs said. “Those small things matter, because what it does is it opens your mind to see that there are other possibilities than what you know.”

With the new gathering spaces, Foster hopes to reinvigorate the momentum the group had pre-pandemic. Before the COVID-19 shutdown, Big Brothers mentored over 2,000 children. Struggles with virtual engagement and a loss of corporate partnerships since then dropped that number to the current 1,500. 

The expansion “is in direct response to a community need and right from the frontlines with our parents and caretakers,” Foster said. “We are here to say ‘Yes’ to any family or child that reaches out to us. That is our responsibility.”

The four new offices will join headquarters in the West Loop and an office in the Austin neighborhood. According to Brown, regional offices will ideally be capable of mentoring 500 children per year within three to. five years. 

“They are truly invested in making sure that they reach out to youth in areas and communities that don’t have those resources and have that access,” Spriggs said. “Having these site locations in some of these areas will hopefully generate more people’s interest in taking part and being a mentor.”

In addition to hoping the new locations will attract volunteers, Brown said, the organization has been hosting “representation events” where prospective mentors can learn about the program in a casual setting. She said Big Brothers has a greater need for mentors who are male, bilingual, and/or people of color to better serve the growing base of children in need of mentorship. 

“We’re not stopping at 5,000 [children],” Foster said. “I haven’t said that to anybody out loud yet, either. But the reality is, 5,000 is just a moment in time. And once we get there, then we’re going to look and say, ‘OK, what else do we need to be doing?’”

Ribbon-cutting ceremonies will be held at the following locations over the next few weeks: