Big Brothers Big Sisters of the Ocean State (BBBSOS) is a name familiar to most Rhode Islanders.
What may be less well known to many are the ways in which members of the community can support the organization’s work, either through donations of clothing and other items or by becoming a mentor to a young person in need.
The Donation Center at 59 Putnam Pike in Johnston, one of three such facilities opened in the spring and one of six in the state, represents the latest approach BBBSOS has taken in terms of outreach.
“What we see is increased donations,” said Lori Viner, operations manager for BBBSOS. “Johnston, we thought, was a really good location for it.”
Open from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. Monday through Saturday and from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. on Sunday, the Johnston center provides an alternative to drop-off bins and home pickups for community members seeking to donate gently used clothing, household items and small furniture.
George Evans Marley, marketing and community outreach specialist for BBBSOS, said the donation center provides assistance with unloading materials as well as receipts for tax deduction purposes.
“There’s a little bit of extra help,” he said.
At present, the site receives approximately 4,000 pounds of donated items each week.
BBBSOS selected the Johnston site because of the level of involvement already demonstrated by the community, and due to the ease with which it was able to open the site in town. Viner cited the popularity of the drop-off bin on Mineral Spring Avenue in North Providence for many Johnston residents, and said home pickups continue in the community.
“We felt this would be a great alternative,” she said.
Viner also said the group has received a “warm welcome” from town residents and officials.
“The process went very smoothly,” she said.
Yinka Awodumila, an attendant at the Johnston Donation Center, said word-of-mouth referrals have played a significant role in drawing people to the site. Many visitors, she said, stop by regularly to donate.
“They’ve made it a part of their routine,” she said.
Donations are vital to BBBSOS pursuing its mission of realizing a “community where all children achieve success in life,” said Marley. Almost all of the donated items are sold through a partnership with Savers Thrift Stores, with the proceeds supporting the BBBSOS mentoring program. Working with Savers also makes the donations available to the community at affordable prices.
Marley said BBBSOS offers traditional community-based matches between mentors and children, as well as matches between couples and children and site- or school-based pairings.
Mentors and children are paired by match support specialists, who identify shared interests between those involved. Marley gave the example of a mentor and child who share an interest in hockey and got tickets to see a game, while Viner mentioned adults and youngsters bonding over music.
Viner said the children involved – boys and girls between the ages of 7 and 15 – are “facing some sort of adversity in their life,” and find a positive influence and role model through their mentor. The ultimate goals are to foster higher aspirations and self-confidence, direct children away from risky behavior and help them achieve educational success.
“It’s definitely something that has a positive impact,” she said.
Marley said recent data regarding outcomes have shown that 82 percent of students in the program show improved self-confidence, and nearly 80 percent are able to better express their feelings. More than 66 percent have developed better decision-making skills, while roughly 63 percent have seen improvements in academic performance.
The objective, said Marley, is to create successful matches that last for at least one year. Mentors provide references and undergo an extensive background check as part of the process.
The couples program, Marley said, is an option that provides “support for the mentor as well as for the child.” The site-based matches typically involve college students visiting schools during after-school hours, and entail such activities as homework support, reading and music.
Of the 286 mentors working with BBBSOS, 27 come from Johnston, 16 are from Cranston and eight are from Warwick.
BBBSOS is headquartered at 1540 Pontiac Ave. in Cranston, with that site also serving as a donation center. Its hours are 9 a.m. to 8 p.m. Monday to Thursday, 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. Friday and 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Sunday.
Those seeking to drop off items at a donation center are asked to visit only during the regular hours of operation.
A full listing of donation centers and drop-off locations can be found online at www.bbbsos.org/donate_clothing.html.
Curbside pickups and clothing drives can be scheduled online or by calling 921-2434 or 877-725-6843, option 1.
Those interested in mentoring can call 921-2434, ext. 101, email firstname.lastname@example.org or visit www.bbbsos.org to obtain more information and an application form.
BBBSOS also has its largest annual fundraising event, “The Big Night Out – An Evening in Paris,” scheduled for June 14 at the Newport Hyatt Hotel.