Updated March 25 at 12:28am

Five Questions With: Deborah Saunders

Executive director of Big Brothers Big Sisters of the Ocean State talks about the benefits “Big Couples” can offer children in need of healthy role models.

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Five Questions With: Deborah Saunders


The Big Brothers Big Sisters of the Ocean State, which has been serving children in Rhode Island for 45 years, recently launched a Big Couples program that will match mentors who are married or in a civil union, who are over the age of 19, with young men between 7 and 15 years old.

The group’s executive director, Deborah Saunders talks about the benefits “Big Couples” can offer children in need of healthy role models.

PBN: What is the motivation behind providing this new opportunity?

SAUNDERS: Unfortunately, there are a growing number of children in our community who need mentors. Our new Big Couples program provides an opportunity for individuals with a desire to mentor, but [who] have limited time or opportunities, to share the experience and rewards of mentoring with their partner. We know that mentoring works – 90 percent of “Littles” tell us that their “Big” made them feel good about themselves. Ninety-five percent of “Littles” tell us that going to school and getting an education are important. And eighty-three percent not only show improvement in their educational success but are also better able to avoid risky behaviors.

PBN: Why is it for in-need boys and young men only?

SAUNDERS: Since starting to serve boys in October 2010, we have learned that it is more difficult and takes more time to recruit male mentors, and we are always searching for innovative new programs that will help us bring more mentors to more boys.

PBN: What additional support and mentorship can couples provide that an individual may not?

SAUNDERS: Big Couples can provide our “Littles” with both the male and female perspective, model strong healthy relationships, and expose the children to a wider range of interests and new experiences.

PBN: The fear of not enough time may stop some from volunteering as a big brother/big sister. How do you work with volunteers around this?

SAUNDERS: All “Bigs” meet with their “Littles” only six to eight hours per month, less time than it takes to watch just one movie per week. The Big Couples program now makes mentoring even more convenient, allowing the Big Couples to share time and meet with their “Little” either together or individually. This option offers much more flexibility than a one-on-one match can offer.

PBN: What are some other ways individuals could support Big Brothers Big Sisters?

SAUNDERS: If you absolutely cannot volunteer to be a mentor, then you are invited to give small household items and gently used clothing to our donation center. Proceeds from these donations are used to directly support our mentoring programs. Business and other organizations can help in several ways: they might consider hosting a fun or educational activity, make a tax-deductible financial donation to one of our mentoring programs, or host one of our purple clothing donation bins in their parking lot where customers or employees can conveniently deposit their personal clothing donations.


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