HOUSTON - Otega and Noah feel more like family than friends because of a special relationship they've developed through Big Brothers Big Sisters.
Big Brothers Big Sisters (BBBS) is an organization that provides one-to-one mentoring to youth.
"We match up a youth, a ‘little,’ with a mentor, and we call them ‘bigs’," explains Janis Doty, the Special Projects Coordinator for BBBS. "We'll do the interviews for both, find out what their interests are, and then we'll match them up so that they can go out and do fun things."
This often gives children a chance to go do something that typically wouldn't be an option for them.
"It's an opportunity to integrate a youth who needs to have a bigger view of their world into your life as a mentor," explains Janis.
Noah and Otega met almost four years ago, when he was 8. Otega loves watching him grow into a responsible young man.
"When I first met with him, he had his phone on him all the time, had his video games on him all the time, and was a little shy so he would focus on those things and wasn't engaging the way I would like for him to engage. But, as he's gotten more comfortable with me and as he's gotten more comfortable with the idea of being out and about, being in public amongst other people, he's not only interacting with me better, he's interacting better with other people," says a smiling Otega.
Around 600 children are on a waiting list for BBBS. That many more volunteers are needed to find the right match.
"In the greater Houston area, you do not want to drive into town to the other because that could take two hours in traffic. So, we look for proximity, we look for a big that is within 30 minutes," says Janis. "Then we also look for compatibility. If I have a big who is all sports and outdoors and a little in the same zip code in the same area, but they prefer books and art, that's not necessarily going to be a good match because they're too different."
It sure was a good match for Otega and Noah!
"We have a lot of similar hobbies and so when we want to do outings and things, it's pretty easy to come up with ideas and things of that nature," explains Otega.
Young Noah feels the same way.
"I like that I get to spend time with Otega, and it's very fun! We play basketball together, and we go to Dave and Busters," says Noah. "It's pretty amazing because I've never had anybody to bring me to many places because we have some foster kids in our house.
Janis says mentors should focus on nurturing their little's spark.
"The mentor's job is to help defend that potential, to help ignite that potential, to help show off that potential that this little person has to show the world and help them see that," says Janis. "There's so much more for them, so much more that they're going to be able to just go out and hopefully rule the world one day. And we want to be there at the beginning to help show them, 'Here's a path, here's one path that you can take,' and walk along beside them."
Children between the ages of 6 to 13 can become a little brother or sister, and they'll stay with their "big" until they turn 18. There's also another program that allows them to stay together one more year after high school if they choose to do that.
If you want to learn more about Big Brothers Big Sisters, click here.