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Nonprofit teams up with business to provide child mentors

Zappos’ offices, 400 E. Stewart Ave., seem to have everything, including ping-pong tables, ice cream, air hockey and ball pits. For the last few months, the online retail giant has had something new: children who can enjoy the amenities.

The company is working with Big Brothers Big Sisters of Southern Nevada to operate a new program in the valley that allows corporate team members to serve as group “Bigs,” the term the charity uses for adult mentors of at-risk children.

“Zappos has been working with Hollingsworth Elementary School on some other initiatives,” said Steven Bautista, Karma Kommando for Zappos. “We were trying to find a way for employees to have mentorships there to have a connection to the school and the community. Big Brothers Big Sisters already had a system that works, so we were happy to get involved with them.”

Bautista added that 100 percent of the school’s students receive free or reduced-price lunch; 60 percent are transient, often moving from one weekly motel to another or couch surfing; and 70 percent speak English as a second language.

Kyle Dunlap, community relations manager for the nonprofit, said it was the first time Big Brothers Big Sisters has worked with a company this way in Las Vegas.

“It’s based on a model that’s worked in Philadelphia and New York, but it’s a reversal,” he said. “In those programs, adult mentors would go to a school, usually for an after-school program.”

The students are shuttled to Zappos each week. The shuttle makes the trip three times each week, transporting about 10 students daily.

Big Brothers Big Sisters, a century-old organization, has a mission to provide children facing adversity with one-on-one relationships, based on the premise that children who have mentoring have a better chance at succeeding in life. The Bigs commit to at least four hours a month. At Zappos, that translates to weekly one-hour visits. About 40 employees take part in the program, and Bautista said the goal is to increase that to 60.

“Right now, we’re focused on the men, because we have more big sisters than big brothers,” Bautista said. “It’s great for our employees because it takes them away from work and shows them there’s more out there. It’s great for the kids because they get to see how a business operates and get the one-on-one time they’re missing out on otherwise.”

There is a risk that students may be disappointed when they encounter a more traditional workplace, one that doesn’t have employees creating art in the halls, a yoga studio and video games in the elevators.

The Littles and Bigs spend the first half-hour of each visit in Zappos’ bistro, where they do academic work while having a snack.

“My Little’s name is Phillip,” said Eric Villanueva, who works at the IT help desk at Zappos. “His brothers are in the program, too. We work on homework together each week, and if he doesn’t have any, Big Brothers Big Sisters provides grade-appropriate worksheets.”

The last half-hour is reserved for play, either physical or with the company’s collection of oversized board games.

Temple Brathwaite, a content coordinator at Zappos, said her Little, Violeta, is getting better at reading every time she sees her. Violeta enjoys cannon balling into the ball pit and playing “Hungry Hungry Hippos.” She prefers the blue hippo.

“I joined the program a couple months ago, and it’s been great,” Brathwaite said. “I look forward to spending time with my Little.”

Dunlap said the program has been successful and may be expanded in the future.

“It’s sort of beta testing right now,” he said.

For more information about Big Brothers Big Sisters of Southern Nevada, visit bbbsn.org or call 702-731-2227.

Contact East Valley View reporter F. Andrew Taylor at ataylor@viewnews.com or 702-380-4532.

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