Head of local Big Brothers Big Sisters discusses power of mentorship

Vegas Voices is a weekly question-and-answer series featuring notable Las Vegans.

Being in the nonprofit world in Las Vegas can have its challenges.

But for the people who work for those organizations — such as Big Brothers Big Sisters of Southern Nevada CEO Molly Latham — the work can be its own reward.

“I believe those in the nonprofit community see the challenges in the community and want to make a difference,” she says.

Latham has always worked in the area of youth support, continuing to do so after she moved to Las Vegas in 1998, and has been with Big Brothers Big Sisters for more than six years.

She recently talked with us about the obstacles and triumphs that come with nonprofit work in Las Vegas.

Review-Journal: What’s your favorite thing about Las Vegas?

Latham: The people here are so interesting and come from so many places with interesting stories. Also, I wasn’t prepared to love the desert environment as I’ve grown to do. The openness of the environment is wonderful.

RJ: What is it like trying to get people to mentor in a transient place like Las Vegas?

Latham: One of the requirements of a successful mentoring relationship is that it lasts for a while, and the transient nature of our population does present a challenge. The volunteer might move and so might the child. However, it is amazing how many volunteers find us because they are from someplace else, they’re here without family and they’re looking for positive social connections. They might have moved here to pursue their career and miss their younger siblings at home. Or, they’re retired and have time and energy to devote to improving the life of a child.

RJ: Does working in the nonprofit world in Las Vegas come with a unique set of complications?

Latham: The issue of everyone being from someplace else can be a two-edged sword. On one hand, people may be attracted to volunteer opportunities such as mentoring, but on the other hand they still might consider someplace else as “home” and that is where they make charitable contributions. If people would support this community by volunteering and investing in those nonprofit agencies that are improving the community where they live, it would create stronger bonds and people would feel more at home.

RJ: It is currently National Mentoring Month. What are some things you want people to know about the power of mentorship?

Latham: We know that kids need adults who care about them and demonstrate that care in positive ways. So many of our kids are being raised in either single parent families, or by other family members, and they lack adequate adult support. When a mentor joins the team and the relationship builds, the child begins to relate better to peers, parents and teachers. They also make positive decisions and have improved performance in school. In general, children who have mentors tend to enjoy educational success, decrease their risky behaviors, develop healthy relationships and be a positive contributor in the community. It costs our agency about $1,400 per year to make and maintain a match through our professional match support processes. It costs as much as $195,000 a year to incarcerate a youth in Nevada. We know from research that youth who have a mentor are less likely to get involved in the juvenile justice system. Doesn’t it make more sense to contribute to providing more mentors for youth so they grow up to be contributing members of society and don’t get in trouble?

RJ: How can people become mentors?

Latham: In honor of National Mentoring Month, people can become a mentor or support our program by visiting our website at bbbsn.org. We are encouraging the community to honor the memory of their childhood mentor by making a contribution to provide more mentors for kids on Thank Your Mentor Day on Jan. 21. It is easy to make a contribution at bbbsn.org/donatementor.

Contact reporter Michael Lyle at mlyle@reviewjournal.com or 702-387-5201. Follow @mjlyle on Twitter.

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