Big Brother Big Sisters or Boys and Girls Club: Where Can You Make an Impact?

Learn about two of today’s best non-profit organizations for youth volunteering, and find out how you can give back to the kids in your community with quality time and positive mentorship.

Last Updated: 08/14/2020

Meet the Expert
Deborah Leach-Scampavia

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Deborah Leach-Scampavia is the coordinator for skills-based volunteering and teen mentoring programs for the Boys & Girls Clubs of Palm Beach County, Florida (BGCPBC).

As someone studying public service, it’s obvious you’re interested in giving back to the community. However, you don’t have to wait until after graduation to start making a difference. Volunteering right now is a great way to not only help your community, but also to gain skills and knowledge that will help you later in your job search.

If you’re interested in working with children, Big Brothers Big Sisters and the Boys and Girls Clubs of America are two national organizations dedicated to providing children with the mentors and services they need to succeed in life. These groups have a profound impact on students across the nation. The Boys and Girls Clubs of America reach 4.73 million children each year, while an 18-month study on the effectiveness of Big Brother Big Sisters found that children who participate are approximately 50% less likely to begin using illegal drugs or skip school.

Are you ready to be part of making a difference in the lives of kids in your community? Keep reading to discover more about each group and its mission. Plus, we have expert advice about what to expect when volunteering and how it can help further your career in public service.

Why Big Brothers Big Sisters or Boys and Girls Club?

There are plenty of volunteer opportunities out there, but Big Brothers Big Sisters and the Boys and Girls Clubs of America provide a unique way to create meaningful change in the lives of specific children. Rather than providing general services, volunteers with these organizations often work one-on-one with kids and can clearly see the positive impact of their efforts.

If you’re still not sure whether to devote your time to these groups, consider the following:

  • Both organizations have long histories and excellent reputations. The Boys and Girls Clubs of America can trace its roots to 1860 while Big Brothers Big Sisters got its start in 1904.
  • Boys and Girls Clubs of America has been recognized for 23 consecutive years as the nation’s #1 youth-serving organization by the Chronicle of Philanthropy.
  • In a survey of Boys and Girls Club alumni, 54% said the organization had helped “save my life.”
  • Participants in the Big Brothers Big Sisters program show significant improvement in areas such as grades, social acceptance, scholastic competence and educational expectations, according to the 2018 BBBSA National Impact Report.
  • Not only are participants of Big Brothers Big Sisters less likely to begin using illegal drugs and skip school, but they are also a third less likely to hit someone and 27% less likely to begin using alcohol.

What Is Big Brothers Big Sisters?

Big Brother Big Sisters has its headquarters in Tampa, Florida, but the organization was started in New York City. A court clerk, Ernest Coulter, wanted to find a way to help the troubled boys he saw coming through his courtroom. He set out to find caring adults to help mentor these boys. Meanwhile, another group called the Ladies of Charity began providing a similar service to girls around the same time.

In 1977, the two groups joined forces to create what is today known as Big Brothers Big Sisters of America. The organization operates in all 50 states as well as 12 countries across the globe. It served 145,429 youth and had 134,149 volunteers in 2018. The work of Big Brothers Big Sisters is overseen by a system of 253 agencies.

Who Does BBBSA Serve?

The children served by Big Brothers Big Sisters range in age from 5 to young adults. However, about half of those enrolled in the program in 2018 were between the ages of 9-12.  

Any parent who feels their child could benefit from a mentor or role model can request services through the organization although the majority of participants – 60% — are from single parent households. What’s more, 80% come from families with incomes low enough to qualify them for free lunch programs. There are also special programs within BBBSA for children of military parents and those with incarcerated parents.

Big Brothers and Big Sisters aren’t intended to replace parents, but help strengthen those relationships by mentoring children and encouraging good choices. A majority of those who volunteer with the organization are single and nearly half are younger than age 30.

Since BBBSA is based on providing one-on-one mentoring, the organization can only serve about as many children as it has volunteers. That’s why it’s vital for service-minded people like to consider volunteering for the group.

What Do Volunteers Do?

Volunteers for Big Brothers Big Sisters are called Bigs and each is matched to a child, known a Little. With thousands of children waiting to participate in the program, BBBSA is always looking for more good volunteers.

Once you sign up and are matched to a Little, your local agency will provide guidance on how to the best way to set up meetings. The organization recommends Bigs have regular and consistent outings with their Little, but the exact time commitment will depend largely on the child’s availability and schedule. All outings must be approved by parents.

What you do with your Little will be up to you, but BBBSA stresses quality time is more important than spending money. Going to the library, playing a board game, or visiting a park are examples of the types of activities Bigs and Littles might do together. The point is you are providing a stable presence in a child’s life and a positive role model for them to emulate.

Big Brothers Big Sisters operates both community-based and school-based programs. Volunteers who are matched through a school-based program stay with their Little for an average of 17 months while community-based matches last more than 30 months, on average, according to 2018 data.

How Can I Get Involved?

It’s easy to sign up for Big Brothers Big Sisters. There are no special credentials required or job skills needed. Instead, volunteers simply must have a desire to serve as a role model and make a positive impact in the life of one child.

To volunteer, visit the BBBSA website and search for a local agency. Even if there isn’t a local agency in your area, you can still submit your information as a potential volunteer. Once your details are received, someone will be in touch with more details about the next steps, one of which will be the completion of a background check.

After you’ve been accepted, a Match Support Specialist will work with you to create meaningful outings with your Little and address any difficult situations that may arise.

What Is the Boys and Girls Clubs of America?

The Boys and Girls Clubs of America take a multifaceted approach to meeting the needs of children across the country. They do that by offering a variety of programs and mentorship opportunities.

The organization was founded in 1860 by three women in Connecticut who felt boys needed to have a positive alternative to roaming the streets each day. By 1906, their Boys Club became affiliated with 53 member organizations. In 1931, the organization adopted the name Boys Clubs of America and girls were added to the title in 1990 to acknowledge that children of all genders were served by the organization.

As of 2018, Boys and Girls Clubs of America had 4,645 club facilities located in schools, public housing, military installations and elsewhere. These groups serve 4.73 million children through club membership and community outreach activities. The group has 467,000 volunteers and is overseen by a Board of Governors. Its headquarters are in Atlanta, Georgia.

Who Do the Boys and Girls Clubs Serve?

Children from all walks of life can join a local Boys and Girls Club. Club members typically range in age from 6-18 although two-thirds were age 6-12 in 2018. More than 60% of members are eligible for free or reduced-price school lunches.

Boys and Girls Clubs have a registered membership of 1.98 million youth and another 2.75 million kids are reached through community outreach programs. There are dozens of national programs offered by Boys and Girls Clubs of America, and local clubs may have their own initiatives as well. Overall, these programs are designed to fill 5 key needs:

  • Bridging the workforce readiness gap
  • Ending cycles of inequality
  • Neutralizing safety threats
  • Filling the mentorship void
  • Listening and amplifying marginal voices

Clubs do these things through programs such as Play Ball to promote fitness, Passport to Manhood to encourage positive character traits and Tech Girls Rock to promote STEM careers for girls.

While clubs are run by staff members, volunteers play an integral role in ensuring these and other programs run smoothly.

What Do Volunteers Do?

Because the programs at Boys and Girls Clubs of America are so diverse, the volunteer opportunities at these clubs are diverse, as well. Depending on your local club, there may be the chance to do any of the following:

  • Coach a sports team
  • Teach money management skills
  • Help with homework
  • Mentor a student
  • Organize a special event
  • Clean or renovate club spaces

You may be able to volunteer for a specific activity or work as a general volunteer who fills in as needed.

Volunteer opportunities can be flexible, but clubs may be looking for those who can make a minimum time commitment, such as one hour a week over a three month period. Many volunteer opportunities are at clubs although some groups may have community outreach programs that are held offsite.

How Can I Get Involved?

Potential volunteers apply directly to their local Boys and Girls Club. Each club may have its own process to consider applications, but here’s a look at what you can expect.

Clubs may have online applications or you may be able to complete a paper application at the club facility. As part of the application process, a criminal background check will be conducted. If everything on your application looks good, the next step may be an orientation session. This could include further information about available volunteer roles, a tour of club facilities and the chance to meet club staff. At the orientation, you may also receive your volunteer placement.

Typically, you don’t need any professional credentials or a degree to volunteer for the Boys and Girls Clubs of America. However, if you do have special skills, clubs may ask you to help with specific programs, such as those pertaining to careers, finance or technology.

For more information about volunteer opportunities or to complete an application, search for a local club on the national website.

Big Brothers Big Sisters vs Boys and Girls Clubs

Both Big Brothers Big Sisters and the Boys and Girls Clubs of America provide the opportunity for volunteers to make a direct impact in the lives of children. However, each does that in a slightly different way. Use the chart below to quickly see how the organizations stack up and decide which one is right for you.

Big Brothers Big SistersBoys and Girls Clubs
MissionTo help youth reach their full potential through one-on-one mentoringTo create safe, positive and inclusive environments where young people can reach their full potential
Locations253 agencies oversee the program in 50 states and 12 countries4,645 club facilities located at schools, military installations, public housing, rural areas and on Native lands
Ages ServedAges 5 through young adulthoodClubs typically serve students ages 6-18
Volunteer OpportunitiesOne-on-one mentoring with a specific childVary by club but may include mentoring, tutoring, coaching or organizing a special event.
Corporate Volunteer OptionsNot typically availableYes, opportunities are available for a workplace team to volunteer together
Cost for Children and FamiliesNoneMembership costs vary by club but can be as little $5 per academic year. Financial aid may be offered to offset the cost.
Cost for VolunteersMay be some incidental costs for outings.None
Application ProcessComplete online application to be matched with a childComplete an application with a local club, attend an orientation session and receive a placement at that club.
Background Check RequiredYesYes
Volunteer Support ProvidedMatch Support Specialists are in regular contact with volunteers to provide assistance as needed.Club staff is available to provide support as needed.
Time CommitmentOften a long-term commitment. Average school-based mentoring relationships last 17 months while community-based mentors may remain with their child for an average of 30 months.Can be a short-term commitment. May be as little as one hour a week for three months.

Careers Working in Youth Programs

Big Brothers Big Sisters and Boys and Girls Clubs of America have more than volunteer opportunities. For public service students, they can offer rewarding career paths as well. Here’s a look at the types of job you may find, depending on your specific degree.

Education

A background in education could be helpful for a number of jobs at these non-profits, particularly with the Boys and Girls Clubs of America. Local clubs may need staff to develop and implement educational programs, and some have paid tutoring positions. For full-time teachers who want to supplement their income, some clubs may offer summer camps in need of teachers and teacher assistants. Related careers and degrees to check out.

Social Work

As public service organizations, social work is at the core of the mission of Big Brothers Big Sisters and Boys and Girls Clubs of America. Having a degree in social work may give you the skills needed for jobs as volunteer coordinators or support specialists, program leaders or family and volunteer interviewers.

Psychology

Psychology degrees can come in handy when addressing the needs of vulnerable youth and navigating the challenges they face. Mentoring staff, volunteer match support specialists and life skills counselors may all be positions within Big Brothers Big Sisters and Boys and Girls Clubs of America that are good fits for those with a background in psychology.

Public Health

Depending on your degree level, you may be able to pursue a number of career opportunities with Big Brothers Big Sisters and Boys and Girls Clubs of America. Site coordinators, health educators, assistant directors and even local site executive directors may have a background in public health.

Volunteering and Working in a Youth Program: Expert FAQ

Deborah-Leach-Scampavia

Deborah
Leach-Scampavia

Deborah Leach-Scampavia is the coordinator for skills-based volunteering and teen mentoring programs for the Boys & Girls Clubs of Palm Beach County, Florida (BGCPBC).

Why should students enrolled in public service degrees consider volunteering with the Boys and Girls Clubs of America?

Boys & Girls Clubs of America (BGCA) is a remarkable organization. In existence for 150 years, BGCA is located throughout the United States and serves nearly 4 million youth (ages 6-18) every year. In afterschool programs, volunteers work with members to bring about positive change in a safe and healthy environment.

When it comes to volunteering, how can students decide which organization is the best fit them?

The decision to volunteer is a way to give back to the community while learning more about yourself.  The best way to decide where to volunteer is to visit the organization sites, meet the staff and members and see if it’s a good fit. It is common, when you walk through the doors at a Boys & Girls Club, that you will be greeted by curious children who are happy you are there, and they may have lots of questions for you! Talk to the staff, learn about the programs and determine where the needs are that fit your skills.

What sort of volunteer activities can students expect at Boys and Girls Clubs of America?

BGCA offers a wide variety of volunteer opportunities. You can help with homework and education enrichment programs, coach sports, help with art projects, teach dance/music, provide adult guidance as a mentor or share your special interests such as yoga, chess, knitting, gardening – just to name a few.

What advice would you give to student volunteers to ensure a positive experience?

Volunteering is both rewarding and challenging – it takes consistency and patience when working with children.  The rewards are fantastic, but make sure you are well supported by Club staff and have a clear understanding of your responsibilities as a volunteer.  When you have established a connection with children, there is nothing more rewarding than seeing a smiling face, happy to see and spend time with you.

As students transition to the workforce, how will these volunteer activities help them in their chosen career path?

Many employers are interested in community outreach and will likely see your volunteering as a positive connection to others. Volunteering speaks to character and the desire to have a positive impact. Many employers see volunteering as a way to boost morale and a positive way to represent their business. Share your volunteer experience with potential employers, whether your volunteering tasks relate to the potential job or not, it speaks to your values.

Additional Resources

If you want to learn more about Big Brothers Big Sisters and Boys and Girls Clubs of America, here are some additional resources to explore:

Big Brothers Big Sisters of America 
The national website for the organization includes information about the group’s mission, volunteer opportunities and impact.

Big Brothers Big Sisters of America Annual Impact Report 
The 2018 report is the latest version of this document which highlights statistics regarding the organization’s participants, volunteers and successes.

Boys and Girls Clubs of America 
Visit the national website for this group for more details about its programs, volunteer options and positive impact on youth.

Boys and Girls Clubs of America Annual Report 
The annual report for Boys and Girls Clubs of America breaks down exactly who the group serves and provides statistics to back up their programs’ success.

Building Relationships: A Guide for New Mentors 
Although an older publication, this short guide provides timeless tips on how to create a positive mentoring relationship with a child.

Charity Navigator 
At Charity Navigator, you can view information about how well each non-profit uses its resources. As of this writing, the national organizations of Big Brothers Big Sisters of America and Boys and Girls Clubs of American each have four stars, the highest rating possible on Charity Navigator.

GuideStar
Like Charity Navigator, this website provides information about non-profit transparency and accountability. You will need to register for a free account to view organization details.

Positive Coaching Alliance
Boys and Girls Clubs of America partner with Positive Coaching Alliance to provide online training to their ALL STARS program coaches.

Social Welfare History Project
This website, maintained by Virginia Commonwealth University, offers in-depth information regarding the history of numerous public services organizations, including Big Brothers Big Sisters of American and Boys and Girls Clubs of America.

The National Mentoring Partnership
If you want to learn more about how mentoring can have a positive impact on youth and volunteers alike, mentoring stories are available on The National Mentoring Partnership website.