Video games and laser tag, who could ask for anything more?
Growing up is hard, but even more difficult for a child of a single parent, one that lives in a rough neighborhood or maybe even for an only child. What if there was a way in which intelligent, successful, and encouraging adults could make a difference in the life of an underprivileged youth?
Founded in 1904, Big Brothers Big Sisters of America is an organization that does just that; connecting “Littles”, children ages 6 through 13, with “Bigs”, someone who will mentor and positively influence a child. In 1989, Big Brothers Big Sisters of Northwest Florida was created and has brought together Bigs and Littles in our area ever since.
Although there is a need for Bigs of any gender, the BBBS website proclaims, “More than 70% of our children waiting for a Big are boys, but only 3 out of every 10 inquiries to volunteer come from men.”
One of those few men is 24-year-old Pensacola resident, Phillip Byram, and he knows firsthand just how this organization benefits children in the area. Byram began his service with BBBS in September of 2015. Nearly one year later, Byram reflects on his experience with the program.
Q: How would you describe yourself?
A: I’m a pretty huge nerd. I work on computers and love video games, but I think there’s a very soft/caring side to me. I believe in the good of humanity. I’ve been called an idealist lots, and I kind of embrace it! I graduated from UWF in 2014 with a Software Engineering degree and now work full time with Milsoft [Utility Solutions] in Pensacola. I’ve lived in the Pensacola area since grade school, and I’ve stuck around to really explore the diverse aspects of this area.
Q: What motivated you to join the BBBS program?
A: I felt like my life was leveling out and things weren’t as chaotic as they were leading up to college graduation and finding a job post-graduation, so I had some spare time. I heard about BBBS through their ‘100 men in 100 days’ campaign, and I thought it would be good to give back to the community that I had been a part of for so many years.
Q: What sort of things do you do with your Little?
A: I almost always do Saturday or Sunday outings. We’ve done things like shopping for and cooking meals, laser tag, disc golf, Minecraft, washing my car, and exploring UWF. It depends on what I can think of, which, for me, has been the hardest part. I try not to do things that are too similar to the outing we did last time. BBBS helps with weekly emails with outing ideas and discounts.
Q: Why is a program like BBBS important to our community?
A: It gives people that want to make a difference the means to do so in an easy, cheap, and direct way while still making a big impact on individuals in the community and the community in general.
In fact, according to the BBBS of Northwest Florida website, “Bigs have a direct and measurable impact on children’s lives.” Affirming that Little Brothers and Sisters in the program are:
Q: What has surprised you most about participating in BBBS?
A: The flexibility in the organization makes it very easy to do whatever you want with your Little. For a while, I would rack my brain on what I should do with my Little, but I’ve gotten to the point where I just take him with me to do what I already had planned for me that day. He seems to enjoy those outings more; I think because it gives him some insight into living independently as an adult. I usually use my weekends to do fun things too rather than always errands.
Q: How has BBBS made an impact on you?
A: I didn’t realize how little free time I needed to be able to give to make this big of a difference. My Little’s mom tells me how much better he’s doing in school and everything else in his life. She thinks this has been really good for him, and that’s exactly why I volunteer for BBBS.
For more information on how you can volunteer and make a difference click here for the Big Brothers Big Sisters of Northwest Florida website. Be prepared to fill out an online application, provide references, be interviewed, and pass a background check.
One thing is for sure, we need more men (and women) taking an active role in guiding children through the challenging years ahead of them. Volunteers like Byram do a great service and not just for the child or our local community, but for society in general.
If you know of a person or organization that has made an impact on the community, please nominate them for this series. Email me at Rebecca.Carlson1984@gmail.com with the subject line “Spotlight: Philanthropy” and a brief description of the person and their achievements.