January 2023 marks Big Brothers Big Sisters of Greater Birmingham’s 50th anniversary.
Big Brothers Big Sisters of Greater Birmingham first opened its doors in 1973. Its mission was simple–to match each child that entered the program one-to-one with an adult mentor, or “Big,” who could act as a positive role model to the “Little.” At its inception, the organization consisted of just a handful of staff, a very limited budget and a passion for serving the youth of Birmingham. Today, Big Brothers Big Sisters of Greater Birmingham has expanded to six counties (Jefferson, Shelby, Blount, Walker, Chilton and St. Clair) and serves over 700 children each year across six different programs.
“The impact our program has on these children is so incredible to see,” said organization CEO Sue S. Johnson. “We’re not just serving these kids for a few years and then sending them on their way. Many of these Matches turn into lifelong friendships, and they all change lives for the better, both for the Big and the Little.”
Johnson has been associated with Big Brothers Big Sisters of Greater Birmingham since 1991 and has served as CEO since 1999. Over the years, she has watched children blossom into versions of themselves that likely never would have been possible without the love and support of their Big.
“We see these kids come in, and a lot of them are being pressured to join gangs, or to do drugs at school, or to get in all sorts of other trouble,” Johnson said. “But then we match them, and it’s like a complete 180 once they start spending time with their Bigs. I’ve watched the Littles in our program go on to become doctors, serve in the military and do any number of other amazing things. Watching them succeed is why we do what we do.”
Research supports the positive impact of mentors as well. A 1994 study by Public/Private Ventures found that after 18 months of spending time with their Bigs, Littles were: 46% less likely to begin using illegal drugs, 27% less likely to begin using alcohol, 52% less likely to skip school and 33% less likely to engage in violence compared to children not enrolled in the program. The study also found that Littles were more confident of their performance in school and got along better with their families.
Johnson has seen the results of this study prove themselves time and time again during her tenure at the agency. “What we do matters,” she said. “When we Match these kids and give them the support and encouragement they need to succeed, they’re capable of anything. They are our future, and I truly think we’re helping to brighten that future, one Match at a time.”