Brian Chilson

When Chrissy Chatham took the helm as CEO of Big Brothers Big Sisters of Central Arkansas in 2015, she didn’t exactly know what she was getting into. The secondhand store Savers, which provided a significant amount of funding for the nonprofit, closed both its locations in Little Rock and North Little Rock in 2017, a major setback to the operations of BBBSCA. But Chatham said her vision of growth for the organization has remained the same since she became CEO.

“I’ve been hopeful the entire three years,” she said. “My tendency is to be more resilient and optimistic. We’ve had several blows over the three years that could have caused some serious changes, but at the end of the day, it’s an opportunity to grow, it’s an opportunity to build and make this organization true to what it is and get down to the basics. So many nonprofits end up doing more than they’re supposed to do, and when you don’t have that ability to do more, you get really good at what you’re supposed to do.”

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Big Brothers Big Sisters’ mission is to provide at-risk children one-on-one relationships with adults. According to Chatham, the Central Arkansas chapter has 89 children matched with mentors. But there is a disparity in the number of boys waiting for adult mentors — 127 boys are in the process of becoming Little Brothers; 50 are waiting for mentors. At the moment, there are only 19 men going through the necessary background checks and interviews required to be a Big Brother. The reverse is true for girls: There are 42 girls in the process of becoming Little Sisters, and 60 women in the process of becoming Big Sisters. The organization needs more male volunteers and more young girls.

Chatham said the continued investment in the matches is an investment in the future. “I think mentors are valuable and incredibly undervalued in our community,” she said. “Every single person has had somebody, whether they realize it or not, to help them through a situation, or a period, or their entire life. … This is one solution to help our community get better. We’ve got a lot of crime and we’ve got a lot of problems with the school system, and we can point to all kinds of things that are wrong. But we have to invest in our youngest populations and set them up for success for that long-term goal of having a successful community.”

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Big Brothers Big Sisters of America handed down new brand positioning in October, complete with a new logo. Chatham said the new branding is an effort to expand the organization’s impact and to “defend the potential” of every child. The new logo of BBBS America features a lowercase “b” in white, which the organization’s website said represents Littles and their families. The logo is completed by a green curve that creates an uppercase “B,” which represents the Bigs who strengthen the relationships among themselves, their Littles and their families.

A new video for the organization says, “We are not saviors. We are allies.” It’s a sentiment that Chatham said she’s inspired by.

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“I love the idea that we’re not saviors, we’re defenders,” she said. “And it’s true, we’re not saviors. … [These are] kids who just have an opportunity and have a chance, we just need to open the door for them.”

Opening that door isn’t nearly as much of a time commitment as people think, according to Chatham. The community-based mentorship program requires Bigs to spend time with their Littles for a minimum of two hours, at least twice a month — just 48 hours per year. Chatham said another common misunderstanding about the organization is what the definition of a good mentor is.

“You don’t have to be perfect, you just have to be present,” she said. “And, in fact, people who have less than perfect backgrounds are generally going to be fantastic mentors.”

When Bigs draw on their own life experiences to help shape the futures of the Littles they mentor, this helps the Littles realize they can do and be more, Chatham said.

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“It’s not the mentor’s role or job to create potential,” Chatham said. “It’s there. It’s our job to defend it, and to make sure it’s able to grow, and to light that fire within the kids.”