If you ask Kyle Dunlap what Big Brothers Big Sisters is all about, he’ll tell you the organization’s mission is to provide children facing adversity with one-on-one relationships.
If you ask Charlie, a third-grader being mentored by Dunlap, he’s a little more effusive.
“We go to Hardcore Parkour, the boxing gym, the Springs Preserve, FLIPnOUT, laser tag, Sky Zone, movies, we go to the park and we read books,” Charlie said. “Did you ever read Tintin? It’s great.”
Dunlap introduced Charlie to the long-running graphic novel series about a boy reporter, and he has been consuming the books voraciously.
“It’s his new favorite book, and it used to be my favorite book when I was growing up,” Dunlap said. “His favorite subject is now reading. When I buy him a new Tintin book, he reads it in a day.”
The organization began in 1904 in New York and has spread across the nation, still following the premise that children who have one-on-one mentoring have a better chance at succeeding in life.
Dunlap moved to Las Vegas from the East Coast four years ago and has been Charlie’s Big Brother for 18 months.
“I’ve always volunteered,” Dunlap said. “I’ve volunteered at homeless shelters and women and children’s shelters. A good friend in college was a Big Brother in Boston, so after I moved here, I was looking for some volunteer opportunities and I looked up Big Brothers Big Sisters online. I applied right there online, and because men are in such high demand, I was matched with Charlie about two weeks later.”
The local branch of the charity works with children from across the valley. The Big Brothers and Big Sisters call the mentored children “Littles,” and Dunlap said that 80 percent of them come from single-family households.
“Charlie doesn’t live with his father, so he needs a guy role model to hang out with and do guy stuff with,” Dunlap said. “I end up teaching him lots of things, like study habits and manners. His mom has four kids and is on her own, working two jobs. She doesn’t always have the time to teach them everything they need to know.”
Kalah Washington was matched with Charlie’s older sister Suzy two months ago. She is her third Little. The first mentor moved out of state, and the second dropped out of the program, but Washington hopes to mentor Suzy for a long time because she said she and Suzy are well matched.
“I’ve always liked working with kids, and mentoring is a way to do it one-on-one,” Washington said. “I’ve done a lot of volunteer work with community centers, but this is a way to connect with someone on a more personal level, as opposed to being in a room full of kids. You can make more of an impact that way.”
Dunlap said studies have shown that mentoring increases the graduation rate. Charlie’s grades are up to all Bs, and Suzy is also doing well in school.
“She received a certificate from school for completing 1,000 minutes of math,” Washington said. “We celebrated by going to BJ’s (restaurant) and had a great time. Our days together are filled. We hang out about twice a month, and I try to call her once a week to see how her week is going.”
Dunlap and Charlie get together about twice a month, also, although the program asks that volunteers commit only four hours a month.
“Four hours a month is really not that much,” Dunlap said. “It’s been proven that that much time can really shape a child’s future.”
Four hours did, however, prove to be too little time with the organization for Dunlap. Eight months ago, he became the community relations manager for the organization.
For more information about Big Brothers Big Sisters of Southern Nevada, visit bbbsn.org or call 702-731-2227.
Contact Paradise/Downtown View reporter F. Andrew Taylor at firstname.lastname@example.org or 702-380-4532.