While nonprofit agency Big Brothers Big Sisters of the Lehigh Valley serves the entire region with its 1:1 mentoring services for children, it identified a specific need in Allentown’s Eastside neighborhood prompting it to relocate its offices there in 2015. Last year it submitted a proposal for a $10,000 grant from The Provident Bank Foundation for its new program called Allentown’s Eastside Community Initiative.

A program extension of BBBSLV’s existing services, its goal was to provide mentors for 15 at-risk children on the Eastside who are facing various struggles including poverty and low academic achievement, among others. It also aimed to create community discussion through a series of focus groups to identify the neighborhood’s strengths, challenges, and aspirations. And it aimed to identify ways the community would use BBBSLV’s Youth Mentoring Facility in the lower level fellowship hall of the church in which the BBBSLV offices are located on Carlisle Street near Hanover Avenue.

A series of three focus groups were lead by downtown Allentown marketing agency Faces International. During two sessions with site-based teenage Big Brothers and Big Sisters, and community-based adult Big Brothers and Big Sisters in the BBBSLV program, participants were asked about their perceptions of the organization, as well as about their experiences as a volunteer. A third session with community members helped to identify challenges in the neighborhood, hopes for its future, and ways BBBSLV can help.  

Using the grant funds, BBBSLV worked with local partners including Mosser Elementary School to identify 15 children from the Eastside community that were in need of mentors. After screening and evaluation each Little was matched with an adult Big from the community. Four of the 15 matches have since reached their one-year anniversary, while the other matches continue to grow. 

Feedback from the focus groups regarding the usage of the facility included offering community programming seven days a week, and starting a match drop-in on the first and third Wednesday of every month this fall. A new program to match Dieruff High School students with Mosser Elementary School students through the BBBSLV site-based program will also be started thanks to funding from The Trexler Trust.

“This important community work couldn’t have been done without the support of The Provident Bank Foundation,” said Susan Bartels, BBBSLV CEO. “Their grant allowed us to convene neighborhood residents and BBBSLV volunteers to learn about our organization and community through their eyes and experiences. It also has directly impacted the lives of Eastside children through new mentor relationships that were created.”

Big Brothers Big Sisters mission is to provide children facing adversity with strong and enduring, professionally supported one-to-one relationships that change their lives for the better, forever. For over 40 years, Big Brothers Big Sisters Lehigh Valley has partnered with parents/guardians, schools, corporations, and others in the Lehigh Valley to pair children (Littles) qualified, trained volunteers (Bigs) and monitor these one-to-one relationships throughout their course.