Big Brothers Big Sisters plays matchmaker to help ignite the promise in our youth

Mentor and mentee standing together

Big Brothers Big Sisters of the Lowcountry in South Carolina creates and supports one-on-one mentoring relationships that ignite the power and promise of our youth.

“We believe all youth, no matter their circumstances, have the right and deserve the opportunity to achieve their full potential,” said President & CEO Merridith Crowe. “We are creating a greater sense of belonging, of ‘I matter,’ a sense of resilience among the youth who need us the most. Mentoring relationships are preventive and protective against things that can get a young person’s life off track.”

The organization puts a lot of care into matching “bigs” with “littles.” Crowe said, “We’re looking at everything in terms of compatibility, religion, experience with youth, temperament, sexuality, geographic proximity. The child, the parents, the mentors—they all get to have preferences. We fashion ourselves expert matchmakers.”

The mentors and mentees meet about twice a month. The time they spend is casual. It often might be focused on a plan to increase self-confidence, learn better study habits, and take risks of a positive sort, but it also can be as simple as helping their little understand they are important. “These adults don’t owe these young people anything. They just said ‘yes’ to being on this child’s team. Something magical happens when an adult who owes you nothing still decides to invest in you because they think you are special,” said Crowe.

Parents of littles, who often live in poverty, care greatly for their children and trust Big Brothers Big Sisters to find a caring, compatible adult. “Child safety is number one for us,” Crowe said.

Without such an organization, children have fewer adults in their corner to help them envision different opportunities and to make them feel like they belong and matter. “Many youth had an adult leave in their lives, sometimes two—many are raised by grandparents. When youth don’t have a strong safety net in terms of relationships, when they feel lonely and do not belong, there’s a greater risk for mental health issues and substance abuse and misuse. That’s really derailing their great potential by making choices that can get them in trouble. Our program helps ignite the potential in these kids,” she said.

“The kids have everything they need within them,” Crowe said. “The question is: Can they see their greatness? Can they take advantage of it? How can we help guide them to great decision-making?”

The organization moved to a new home in 2023 and has doubled its employees from four to eight in the last four years. It matches more than 300 kids and adults annually, a number it hopes to increase to 335 in 2024 and eventually to 500. Demand is strong, with almost 300 kids on a waiting list, but they need to recruit mentors and find new investors.

They’re grateful for Publix Charities’ continued support.  “They are one of our most enduring investors. I’ve always been impressed by how much Publix Charities gives back to the communities in which Publix operates. We’ve been deeply grateful to have their support and we look forward to continuing the partnership long-term,” said Crowe.

At times, the program and Publix come together. Taylor, 17, a bakery clerk at a Publix store in Charleston, South Carolina, has been a little sister for two years. She’s enjoyed the different opportunities available in the program.

“I’ve been working with a Bank of America program that teaches me things I didn’t know about money management and saving,” Taylor said. She also liked meeting the mayor and listening to his speech.

When she’s with her Big Sister, she talks about her aspirations, what she wants to do after high school, how she’s doing in school, and what other options are available if something doesn’t work out so she has backup plans.

Taylor plans to attend Trident Technical College for two years. After that, she’s interested in joining the Coast Guard or attending Johnson & Wales University to study marketing or the culinary arts.