Teenagers, kick our butts
March 5, 2011 5:59 AM   Subscribe

Increasingly, I'd like to volunteer to donate my time to assist academically/nerdily inclined teenaged girls. Am I the right kind of person to become a Big Sister? If not, can you suggest something else I could do?

It's become a personal wish of mine to reach out to bright teenaged girls who feel the same kind of isolation that I often did. When I realized that I felt that way, it naturally occurred to me that I could volunteer to be a Big Sister. But I'm not sure I'm the right kind of person.

I'm 32, I practice law* in the Boston area, and I'm still a huge nerd. That is to say, I'm an introvert and I'm terrible at small talk. I do love talking to people and making friends, and I talk easily to my friends, but I don't have a lot in common with many people -- this is not a backhanded compliment to myself, I'm profoundly weird -- and so I have trouble connecting at first. I never thought about teaching, because I could never fathom not being interested in things, and when kids are sullen and tune out, I don't know what to say. I came right up against this when I was in college and did tutoring help for local high school girls. I don't know if I'm the right person to reach out to somebody in a Big Sister context. Do you have any suggestions or alternatives?

* I might add that it's in an arcane specialty area, not criminal law or anything that kids would find exciting to learn about.
posted by Countess Elena to Grab Bag (10 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
I've been a Big Sister for about seven years now. I think your compatibility as a Big Sister will depend on the kinds of girls who happen to be on the waiting list when you apply. I know when I applied, the coordinator told me they don't have a big backlog of girls waiting to be matched -- it's mostly boys in need of a Big, since fewer men volunteer than women. Therefore, it may end up that they would need you for a child with a very different personality type and interests than you expect. It may be worth a call to your local BBBS office, though -- explain your background and what you're looking for, and who knows, they may have a nice, academically inclined girl who could use a Big Sister just like you :)

Another idea is this: what about looking into volunteering at a girls' camp or some other kind of smart girls program like that? An organization like Girls Inc. might also have some leads on groups that could use help.

Good luck, and kudos on wanting to help out! It's one of the most rewarding things you'll do. :)
posted by justonegirl at 6:35 AM on March 5, 2011 [1 favorite]

If you're at all inclined to teach stuff to nerdy kids, the MIT Educational Studies Program runs a variety of programs ranging from one-shot classes to longer semester-type class programs on weekends for high school kids. You can teach whatever you want, pretty much, and the kids take whatever interests them.
posted by rmd1023 at 7:16 AM on March 5, 2011

great post title! I used to work for Big Brothers and Big Sisters, and in my experience and from what i understood to be the case generally, there were more women waiting to volunteer than girls looking for Big Sisters. (and a HUGE backlog of little boys waiting for Big Brothers). The kind of girls you're describing weren't really a huge demographic in the BBBS group - if a girl is doing well in school and already has a mom, there's no natural impetus for the mother of that girl to seek out another adult role model in the form of a Big Sister. It doesn't really sound to me like it's a fantastic fit.

However, YOU sound fantastic, and because knowing which demographic of girls you want to work with will help you. so that's great. Check out some schools maybe, for after-school programming? And be specific about what you would like to do with the girls, or they're likely to place you with kids who are having academic trouble.

Good luck!
posted by andreapandrea at 8:00 AM on March 5, 2011

I second trying to find an after school tutoring program as opposed to BBBS. I was a Big Sister for a year and didn't get matched that well with my little, so it lasted just one year. I'm an introvert, too, and it was just too hard for me to connect with her family as well - she had a lot of different family members taking care of her, so I would often have to call three or four separate phone numbers to get in touch with her, explain who I was, try to get people to take messages for her to call me back, etc. It was exhausting.

Three years ago I started tutoring with a "homework hangout" program at a low-income apartment complex, and it's been fantastic. Most of the kids are Somali immigrants (elementary/middle school-aged), and they're super eager to learn English and show me what they've learned in school each week. The first hour we spend working on homework, reading, math games, etc. The second hour we spend playing other games, making crafts, doing puzzles, playing outside (when it's nice out), etc. I really like it because the kids come to the community room at a set time every week, and I don't have to spend time figuring out their family dynamics to arrange times/dates/locations. Plus, the kids are hilarious.

If your personality is anything like mine (and it sounds like it is), I would suggest finding a more structured program than BBBS - trying to get in contact with my little, negotiating dates/times/activities/costs, and having to constantly reach out directly to her family members was too much for me (especially since my little was not all that interested in the program - she was in it because her older sister was in it). Having a set date/time/place with activities pretty much pre-determined has been great - I show up, a kid shows up, and we work together!
posted by Maarika at 9:37 AM on March 5, 2011

Usually if a girl is academically-inclined, they won't be placed in BBBS or any type of mentoring program. It's typically girls who are struggling in school or have issues that cause the school or org to want to get them extra adult attention. I'm a mentor in a similar program and the kids who have mentors are not the ones who do well in school.
posted by elpea at 9:55 AM on March 5, 2011

It may depend on your area and personal beliefs, but I know of a few of nerdy/artistic women who are involved with Girl Scouts. That's less one-on-one and may skew a little bit younger than you're interested in, but it still may be worth looking into.
posted by darksong at 1:32 PM on March 5, 2011

Seconding Girl Scouts! (Not sure what darksong means by the "personal beliefs" comment, though.)

You don't have to be a troop leader or make a huge time commitment. But troop leaders are often looking for people who can meet with the girls and maybe help with a particular project, or speak about a career. It's not all arts & crafts and camping. My troop made a web site a few years ago. Recently, my local council had a program for teenage girls on learning to be the CEO of your own company. The Chicago council has programs (pdf) in engineering, making videos, careers radio, and newspaper reporting in addition to more Scout-y type stuff like star-gazing and printmaking.

Here's the volunteer page from the Eastern Massachusetts GS Council site.

Another option might be to contact a local high school and see if there might be a club you could help with, or start.
posted by SuperSquirrel at 4:00 PM on March 5, 2011

A key word you might use when looking for programs is "STEM", which stands for science, technology, engineering and math. Even though you didn't mention those fields as interests, there are programs to encourage girls to study STEM in higher ed and I imagine you could find some cool teens and preteens who would love to know you.
posted by coolsara at 4:54 PM on March 5, 2011 [1 favorite]

You are a great candidate to be a Big Sister. They don't just match you with someone blindly. You hear all about your potential match before your potential match even knows you exist. This gives you the opportunity to have some idea of exactly what you're getting into. If it doesn't sound like they're suggesting a good match, it's totally fine to reject the match and give them that feedback. They'll keep looking until they find someone who is perfect for you. The need for bigs varies greatly. Don't be discouraged from calling BB/BS because of advice here that there is probably a waiting list for female bigs waiting for littles. Call to find out for sure. There's a long waiting list for male and female littles waiting for bigs in my area. Also, lots of volunteers are college students who, for whatever reason, might not be the best matches for some of the little sisters waiting for bigs. Your life experience actually brings a lot of great things to the table that a lot of other volunteers might not be able to offer. BB/BS is a wonderful organization, and they'd love to have you involved! If you're still even a little bit curious, give them a call to learn more.
posted by TurkishGolds at 5:36 PM on March 5, 2011

Response by poster: This is great, guys -- I have a lot to think about and look into! Thanks for all your answers!
posted by Countess Elena at 7:55 AM on March 6, 2011

« Older I think my personality / attitude may be...   |   Dentist visit from hell Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.