Helping Youth Tap into Their Potential Through Support and Guidance

As summer break begins for children, there is an increased need for adult supervision in the form of mentors and role models. United Way of Greater St. Louis (UWGSL) prioritizes the importance of youth development and success through mentorship. We are proud to partner with organizations like Big Brothers Big Sisters of Southwestern Illinois who take pride in making a difference in the lives of local youth by helping them reach their full potential.

Big Brothers Big Sisters pairs responsible adults (Bigs) with children seeking mentors (Littles) and from there, they bond with each other by participating in fun activities together and working on constructive projects that keeps the Little’s mind sharp. Above all, this program gives a Little someone to confide in and look up to. Research shows that the presence of a caring adult role model in a child’s life is one of the single most important factors in building a child’s resilience.

For Keywanna, Big Brothers Big Sisters gave her a foundation of empowerment during a time when she was consumed by loneliness and a need for another parental figure in her life.

An unbreakable bond

Keywanna grew up as an only child in a single-parent household with a mother who was busy supporting herself and Keywanna and often didn’t have time to give Keywanna the extra attention she needed. Keywanna and her mom moved a lot, and it was difficult for her to make friends in school, so she often felt alone and isolated. They hoped they could find someone who could fill that void and sort of be a second mom to Keywanna.

When Keywanna was 12 years old, she met a woman named Pamela at a community service jump rope competition. Pamela was a former teacher, principal and superintendent who had a passion for inspiring young people to be all they can be. The two of them had a conversation and they quickly grew fond of one another.

As Keywanna and her mom continuously searched for people and organizations to support Keywanna, they finally landed on Big Brothers Big Sisters of Southwestern Illinois. Their staff searched for a Big that would be most compatible with Keywanna, and as fait would have it – she was paired with the nice woman she had met a few months earlier, Pamela.

“We were both like, ‘What a small world!’” said Keywanna. “We met each other before, now we’re meeting again, and I just took this as a sign from God that we were meant to be together as Big Sister and Little Sister.”

They spent a lot of time together playing tennis, going to the movies, shopping, and much more, they even made a scrapbook of their journey together. As their bond grew, Keywanna began to feel comfortable opening up to her about deeper, personal things. It felt good to have someone who she knew she could depend on to be an anchor of stability for her.

“When Ms. Pam came, my entire life changed,” said Keywanna. “She showed me that she was genuine, and that she was willing to give me those extra words of encouragement to push me to the next level.”

“It was a match made in heaven,” said Pamela. “Big Brothers Big Sisters does a great job when it comes to matching because we liked all of the same things. I will never give her up, I look at her as my Little for a lifetime.”

As Keywanna spent more time with Pamela, she gained more self-confidence and maturity. After their first year together, Pamela had Keywanna write a summary about what Big Brothers Big Sisters taught her. Here are a couple of excerpts of what she wrote:

 “What I’ve grown to know about confidence is that don’t doubt how you feel about yourself or don’t let other people break your confidence. Believe in yourself always.

I’ve grown to know that being a Little Sister is the best thing that ever happened to me because of my Big Sister, Pamela Manning.”

Their bond grew closer and closer over the next few years, and today, over ten years since they first met, they still frequently speak to each other.

Keywanna is in her twenties now, has three children, and a career as a caretaker for the elderly that she enjoys. Pamela is proud of how much Keywanna has been able to grow under her tutelage. She says it is important to foster the success of the next generation.

“When it comes to youth, if we can save a life or make a life better, that is what we should strive to do as adults.”

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Rodney Humphries
Rodney Humphries