November 16, 2009
Unprecedented Shortage of Jewish Little Brothers
Jason Ramin is eagerly waiting to be matched to a Little Brother by Jewish Big Brothers Big Sisters of Los Angeles. The 24-year-old marketing consultant and Beverly Hills resident envisions taking his Little Brother to Magic Mountain, to the movie theater or just hanging out, providing him with a positive male role model.
“I would not be the person I am today if I didn’t have my dad,” he said.
Ramin, however, has been waiting more than 11 months for a Little Brother, a process that normally takes only a couple of months. For the first time in the history of the agency, which was founded in 1915, there is a shortage of Little Brothers. The private, nonprofit agency has historically had a shortage of Little Sisters, President and CEO Margy Feldman said.
There are 23 confirmed and trained Big Brothers and 28 confirmed and trained Big Sisters as of Oct. 31, plus another 14 “in the pipeline,” Feldman said. And currently only four children are awaiting matches.
Feldman attributes the unprecedented shortage, which she traces back to April 2009, to the fact that single mothers, who predominantly initiate the request for a Big Brother, are overwhelmed with basic necessities — working, caring for their children and managing a household. “It could be that they see having a Big Brother as a luxury,” she said, adding that the agency does cross-gender matching.
Generally, Jewish Big Brothers Big Sisters of Los Angeles makes about 80 new matches a year. They are based on compatibility, including levels of Jewish observance and geographical proximity. This year, with less than two months remaining, only 47 matches have been finalized. That brings the agency’s total number of this year’s new and ongoing matches to 198.
To qualify as a Little Brother or Little Sister, a child must be age 6 or older and Jewish or being raised Jewish. Often the father or other male figure is absent from the family. The child could also have a challenging family situation, such as a disabled sibling, and benefit from having a Big Brother or Big Sister as a special friend. Additionally, a same-sex couple could request a Big Brother or Big Sister to provide an adult mentor of the opposite sex.
And while the majority of Little Brothers and Little Sisters come from disadvantaged circumstances, it’s not a prerequisite. Additionally, there is no cost.
A Little Brother or Little Sister generally meets with the Big Brother or Big Sister twice a month, for a couple of hours each visit. The relationship can continue until the child turns 21, with many lasting an entire lifetime.
The benefits for a Little Brother or Little Sister, according to a study done by the nonprofit organization Public/Private Ventures in 1995, “Making a Difference: An Impact Study of Big Brothers/Big Sisters,” are significant: 52 percent are less likely to skip school, 46 percent are less likely to begin using drugs, 27 percent are less likely to begin drinking and 33 percent are less likely to act out violently toward others.
Jewish Big Brothers Big Sisters of Los Angeles is one of only three Jewish Big Brother Big Sister programs nationally that are affiliated with Big Brothers Big Sisters of America and that require the Little Brothers and Little Sisters to identify as Jewish. (Locally, because of a prior arrangement with Catholic Big Brothers Big Sisters of Los Angeles and with Big Brothers Big Sisters of Greater Los Angeles, the organization accepts only Jewish children or those being raised Jewish.)
The Jewish Big Brother Big Sister program in Baltimore is not seeing a shortage of Little Brothers, though the waiting list is not as huge as it’s been, according to Beth Hecht, senior manager for volunteer services of Jewish Community Services. In Cleveland, The Jewish Big Brother Big Sister Association has been experiencing a shortage of both Little and Big Brothers over the past six months and an increase of Little and Big Sisters. “I don’t know why,” said Rachel Duber, the program’s executive director.
On the local nondenominational level, Big Brothers Big Sisters of Greater Los Angeles and the Inland Empire is not experiencing a shortage of Little Brothers, President and CEO John Malcolm said. Rather, the agency is always grappling with an insufficient number of males, particularly men of color.
Meanwhile, Jewish Big Brothers Big Sisters of Los Angeles is getting out the word, which is challenging in the far-reaching Los Angeles Jewish community.
“We don’t know how to find a lot of people who need our services as they don’t necessarily go to temple,” Feldman said. “But we know they’re out there.”