Match as Many Kids as Possible

Diane Backens, a Community Based Specialist at Big Brothers Big Sisters of SLO County, is unwavering in her assertion that she is working her dream job.  Diane grew up on the Central Coast and is an elementary teacher by trade.  She spent the majority of her career in upstate New York advocating for youth in the school system and volunteering time and energy for various youth-focused boards.  Most recently, she has been applying her institutional knowledge and real world grit to get the Paso Robles branch of Big Brothers Big Sisters off the ground in what she describes as a gift to the community.

diane1_21c1b5ab9920daedce03090cd3895845Since February, there have been eight matches in the North County – mentors who take their “Littles” bike riding, hiking, to the beach and the zoo, spend time cooking and yes, lots of dessert eating.  The number of Littles waiting for a mentor, or “Big”, as they are referred to fluctuates day to day but approximately 30 kids remain on the wait list in North County.  While there is a lot of excitement and buzz in the community and by parents about the Paso Robles office, the statistic remains: only 1/3 of those on wait lists will be served.  Two obstacles?  Funding and mentors.

In walks must! charities and YOU, our partners.  This collaboration is a four-year, $253,000 project that will expand youth mentoring in an underserved region, making sure children, who ask for assistance from adults, will get the service they need.  It takes approximately $1,000 per year to serve each Little. – must! charities’ collaboration has meant a kick start to the North County and sustained presence.

Now we need YOU to help with finding our “Bigs” for these kids on the wait list.  But what exactly makes a good mentor?  If you can believe it, there is no mold you have to squeeze into – mentors bridge the gap between all demographics and socioeconomic situations.  Some mentors have children at home, some have grown children, and others have no children at all.  A match is more about putting a Big and a Llittle together that share some of the same interests, live in the same area, may or may not have similar backgrounds and perhaps have faced some of the same challenges.  It takes as little as 6 hours a month –hanging out at least every other week, and touching base with a phone call or postcard during the other weeks.

I asked Diane what her biggest challenge is in Paso Robles.  She smiled, “I hope there isn’t one.  I hope that things continue to flow and we match as many kids as possible.”  Program Director, Madge Morningstar adds, “The challenge was not having the location nor the staff to meet the need in North County. Now that we have both those things…our wishes have been granted. We hope to be able to keep these assets available for the long term!”

For more information on the project collaboration or to become a mentor, contact Becky at must! charities at 805.226.5788 or