Month: March 2015

Overcoming Adversity: How Supportive Relationships Help Children Develop Resilience

John and Ian infront of the BBBST sign

Why do some people develop the ability to overcome significant adversity in their lives, while others struggle to do so? And what can we learn from those who have succeeded, even against the odds? A working paper from the National Scientific Council on the Developing Child at Harvard University provides evidence that children who have at least one stable, committed, positive relationship with an adult are more likely to develop the skills and abilities necessary to overcome adverse life experiences.

Supportive relationships with a caring adult can protect children from developmental disruption by helping them learn to effectively cope with stress, monitor and regulate behavior, and adapt to change. The combined effects of adaptive skill-building, a supportive relationship, and positive life experiences contribute to a child’s resilience under difficult circumstances. These findings support decades of research in the field of youth development showing that one-to-one relationships such as those supported by Big Brothers Big Sisters’ mentoring programs enable a child to thrive, even under the most challenging circumstances.

Research findings have identified four key factors that increase the likelihood of positive outcomes for children facing adversity. When these influences are operating effectively, a child is more likely to achieve positive or desirable life outcomes. When these factors are absent or inconsistent, positive outcomes are less likely. These common factors include:

• Availability of at least one stable, caring, and supportive relationship between a child and important adults in his or her life

• Helping children build a sense of mastery over their life circumstances

• Development of strong executive function and self-regulation skills (the ability to manage behavior and emotions, and cope effectively with stress)

• Supportive context of cultural or faith-based traditions

Many factors contribute to a person’s resilience, including genetics and other biological factors, internal predispositions, and external experiences. But a person’s ability to adapt to change, cope with stress, and sustain well-being is not set in stone – in fact, with the right combination of positive interventions, resilience can improve over time. This suggests that the beneficial impacts of Big Brothers Big Sisters’ long-term, one-to-one mentoring relationships may be even more significant for those children who face greater challenges in their daily lives.

Sources: The Chronicle of Evidence-Based Mentoring, National Scientific Council on the Developing Child

170 Boys in Tucson Waiting for a Big Brother

JoonHong and Colin_opt

Big Brothers Big Sisters of Tucson (BBBST) is a non-profit organization that matches children with volunteer mentors in strong and enduring, professionally-supported, 1-to-1 relationships that change their lives. Volunteer “Bigs” spend a few hours, several times a month, with their “Little.” Children in the BBBST program are more likely to have greater confidence and better relationships, avoid risky behavior, and achieve educational success.

We spoke with JoonHong Choi, a Big Brother who has been matched with his Little Brother for one and a half years. Over 170 boys in Tucson are waiting for a Big Brother to be a friend and positive role model.

What do you and your Little Brother do together?

He is very energetic. He loves to run around. So we do a lot of active things together. We go to AZ Airtime a lot, and he loves it. Recently we went to the “Plankton Lab” outing at Biosphere II.

How have you seen him change since you have been matched?

I don’t know if I have noticed any specific changes. But I do feel like we are becoming more close and comfortable in our relationship. We have mutual trust, and have a lot of fun together. Our relationship is important to both of us.

What do you enjoy about the relationship?

Colin reminds me of myself when I was his age. He is full of energy, and we like to have fun and run around together. Colin loves military stuff, and knows more about it than I do – we went to Davis-Monthan Air Force Base, and really enjoyed that. We like doing “guy” things together.

What are some challenges in the relationship?

Communication. Sometimes I ask him questions, and he just answers “yes” or “no.” It has taken persistence and dedication to get him to disclose information about himself. Over time, he has become more communicative, and it has been incredibly rewarding to develop that kind of bond with him. Another challenge is that he is so active and energetic, and it can be difficult for him to sit still and talk.

What have you learned from the relationship?

I am still learning about the best ways to deal with kids. I think that being a Big Brother is an important step toward learning how to interact with and take care of kids. Every time Colin and I go out, it is a challenge, but I learn something every time. It is fun, rewarding, and invigorating. Being a Big Brother is the only volunteer experience I have had that I feel is truly worthwhile.

How do you balance the commitment of being a Big with your other commitments?

Colin and I meet twice a month for two to three hours. Sometimes we hang out for more or less time. The time commitment is very manageable, since I can fit it in on weekends. It’s easy to reschedule or postpone outings when one of us has a conflict or gets sick. Colin’s mom is flexible and communicative, and supportive of our relationship.

How do the BBBST staff and agency support your match?

My program coordinator, Rebeca, is great. I talk to her 3 or 4 times a month. She lets me know about free tickets and agency outings. Sometimes it’s difficult for me to come up with ideas for match outings, so the fact that BBBST makes free outings available to us is very helpful.

What advice would you give to someone thinking about becoming a Big?

If you want to have fun, do it. You would be surprised by how much there is to do in Tucson. As a Big Brother, you do so many fun and different things you probably wouldn’t have done otherwise. Being a Big Brother is one of the most rewarding things I have ever done. I will stay matched with my Little Brother for as long as I live in Tucson. If you’re thinking about it, just try it out.

To mentor one of the 170 boys in Tucson waiting for a Big Brother, visit or call (520) 624-2447.