On a given day, there are 300 to 500 kids on the waiting list to have a mentor through Big Brothers Big Sisters of Central Texas, most of those kids being boys. Recruiting male mentors or “bigs” is a perennial problem for the nonprofit here and at other chapters across the country, but lately the Central Texas chapter is finding new ways to recruit. Right now, it’s working with a local barber shop that might be the perfect recruiting partner.
On the Monday before the first day of school, about 20 “littles” received free haircuts courtesy the staff of Skinny’s Barber Shop. Although the shop is usually closed on Mondays, the owner, John Cleaveland has a special place in his heart for the nonprofit. “I really feel like they play a big role in changing these kids’ lives for the better,” he said. When one of his staff, Cesar Cazares, wanted a way to give back to the young people in the community, Cleaveland suggested bringing in the “littles” and their “bigs”. “The crazy thing is that everybody was on board,” he said. Even on their day off, every barber that could show up did. “I picked the right barbers to work at the shop,” said Cleaveland. “These guys really care, and a lot of them want to go above and beyond and do things like this.”
Realizing that the barber shop environment could be a great place to bring up the topic of mentorship, Cleaveland will continue to help recruit more mentors. He’s hung signs in the shop that he hopes will spark a client’s interest, and he had Big Brothers Big Sisters staff present to his staff so they’d be able to answer questions about the program. “I don’t know how much difference the signs are going to make,” he said, “but if it helps even one kid get a mentor, it would be worth it.”
RIght now, the nonprofit serves more than 1,000 kids a year in Travis, Williamson, and Hays counties, and the mentoring model works. In 2018, 96 percent of the children with mentors said that their relationship with their mentor was very important to them, and almost 100 percent of children with mentors maintain or improve their grades and progress to the next grade level.
Overwhelmingly, children applying for a mentor are minorities. In 2018, almost 90 percent of the children they served were Hispanic, Black, or mixed-race kids, so the need for mentors who are male and a minority is the nonprofits most pressing concern.
“Many of the kids we serve come from single parent homes,” said Brenda Lindfors, a spokesperson for Big Brothers Big Sisters. “and most headed by single moms. These moms are often looking for male role models for their sons, and it is great for our kids to be connected with role models who look like them, who understand them, and who can inspire them.”
Cleaveland believes his clients could be a good match. “There’s a bunch of really good men that come in here,” he said, “and they can be really good role models for some of these kids.”
PHOTO: Skinny’s Barber Shop staff, Tasha Malott, John Cleaveland, Stacy Ledesma, Alex Pascone, Marcos Rivera, and Cesar Cazares, and others gave free haircuts to boys served by Big Brothers Big Sisters Central Texas. Photo contributed by James Cleaveland.
NOTE: A version of this article appeared in the Austin American-Statesman on Sept. 8, 2019.