Fueling the Future Workforce

When Big Brothers Big Sisters of the Lehigh Valley (BBBSLV) was gifted a church on the Eastside of Allentown in 2015, an opportunity presented itself to reimagine the space and serve the local community through a youth mentoring center.

Today, the space continues to evolve, but the center on Carlisle Street is now equipped with a STEAM Lab outfitted for learning in the areas of Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts and Math.  Robotics kits, Lego walls, iPads and more offer children enrolled in the agency’s mentoring programs (Littles) access to technology and experiences intended to improve math skills and PSSA scores.

However, the reimagining did not stop there. With an eye on deepening the agency’s commitment to STEAM learning and enhancing outcomes for children served, BBBSLV CEO Susan Bartels needed funding to take a strategic next step: Preparing Littles for the 21st century workforce. In that effort, she found the perfect partner in Lehigh County’s State Senator, Pat Browne, the Chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee.  

“Big Brothers and Big Sisters of the Lehigh Valley’s innovative new approach to introducing the next generation to STEAM skillsets is setting up our students for a successful future in the modern economy,” Senator Pat Browne said. “This program goes well beyond building a smart and skilled future workforce. They are teaching invaluable competencies, such as critical thinking and problem solving, which will serve these kids and young adults well for the rest of their lives.”

Embracing BBBSLV’s mission, Senator Browne secured funding through the PA Department of Education which enabled the agency to fully integrate STEAM learning into its curriculums and establish a new mentoring program called Beyond School Walls SM (BSW).

A signature program of BBBSLV’s parent organization, Big Brothers Big Sisters of America, Beyond School Walls SM is an innovative solution designed to combine evidence-based mentoring with opportunities for career exploration and workplace readiness. In collaboration with local businesses and partners in higher education, BBBSLV sources mentors (Bigs) to pair with Lehigh Valley middle and high school students in one-to-one mentoring relationships. Together, Bigs and Littles (matches) meet virtually to discuss topics such as email etiquette, professionalism, and career interests.

Since October of last year, BBBSLV’s BSW program has grown to three virtual cohorts, including employees and students from Sports Info Solutions, Inc., Lafayette College and Lehigh University.  A fourth cohort with St. Luke’s Hospital’s Temple University students will launch next month.

Armed with state funding, BBBSLV’s goal is to serve 50 children through BSW by June 30, 2022.

Additional funds secured will be utilized to broaden STEAM integration into existing BBBSLV mentoring programs and create novel experiences in the Lab at the mentoring center. Recent offerings for matches have included Lego night and sugar cookie baking, in addition to lava lamp, chromatography and string art projects. Bigs and Littles even learned how to build a foosball table using a shoebox.