For the program’s pilot year, in-school ‘Big Groups’ were offered at Asheville, Enka, Erwin and Owen middle schools and after-school groups at Burton Street Community Center, Stephens Lee and Montford Recreation Centers. Throughout the seven group mentoring sites, 24 mentors led groups that totaled 44 youth in enrollment!
“Through the efforts of the partners in the Middle Grades Network, we started this project last year with an ongoing group at Asheville Middle which enlisted mentors from Wells Fargo,” said Jamye Davis, BBBS’ Assistant Director.
And it was from that initial group’s success that BBBS saw a win-win blueprint for future groups: enlisting local companies and organizations as partners where company employees actually gain the opportunity to lead these groups themselves—which sustains morale and helps weave even more purpose into their jobs.
After noting the successes and challenges of the initial group, BBBS saw the need to develop a tighter curricula and focus for the Big Groups—making them more educational and skill-building not only for the benefit of the youth, but so the mentors could have a clear map on how to plug in and how to gauge the group’s progress.
So, over the summer in preparation for the 2017-2018 school year, BBBS developed a common focus and set of goals for the group-mentoring program: strengthening interpersonal skills, confidence and developing goal-setting skills. The groups also incorporate hands-on activities that address team-building, self-respect, empathy, conflict resolution, healthy relationships, goal-setting and career interests. Between it all, there’s ample time for discussing real-world issues that middle schoolers face today.
As the new school-year approached, a brand new idea emerged for two of the schools: launching a ‘Girls Empowerment’ group where female mentors and female mentees would connect around the core curricula while also incorporating discussion topics that were geared toward a middle-school girls’ social emotional experience.
“It was when two male-only groups from other partnering organizations had started at Erwin Middle that we envisioned a new kind of Big Group,” explains Davis, “Which was an ‘Empowerment Group’ for girls. We offered this group at Erwin Middle for 7th graders and we just wrapped up the year last week after a great first year,” she said.
And the model really worked well, leading to a second Empowerment Group for girls to kick off at Owen Middle School at the start of the Spring Semester.
“The girls really enjoyed the group and have even said that it’s their favorite part of coming to school!” said Katie Patterson, co-leader of the Empowerment Group at Erwin and intern at United Way.
Linnea Burgevin, Erwin’s Resource Coordinator through United Way says that “We all have an obligation to offer support through positive mentoring programs like the BBBS’ Girls Empowerment group…It is absolutely crucial that young people—especially during their middle-grades years, have someone who sees them, someone who they trust and know they can turn to.”
One of the many pieces of evidence that drew attention to the need for this type of mentoring experience for local middle-schoolers came from a survey of Erwin Middle students last year, wherein students themselves listed “Having a trusted adult member in the building” as one of their most-cited needs. Our hope is for the Big Groups to meet that need for both boys and girls in middle school.
Meanwhile, while the in-school groups gained steam, students from Warren Wilson College and UNCA’s Black Student Union answered the call to initiate ‘Big Groups’ on the after-school front. Similar to the in-school groups, skills development was underscored here, with added enrichment that included field trips to both campuses and a partnership with YMCA’s Healthy Eating program.
Throughout the month of April, the three after-school groups each embarked on their own adventure: Burton Street took a trip to Warren Wilson College to tour the farm school, learn about animal care and take a horse-drawn wagon ride throughout the grounds! Montford Recreation Center mentees were invited out for a tour of UNCA by their mentors from UNCA’s Black Student Union, where they got to learn about which buildings housed which departments, the ins and outs of the subjects their mentors were studying—and got to interact with some interpretive sculptural art and even check out a real live dorm room!
Our Big Groups have had a great pilot year. The group-mentoring model gives us a chance to serve more kids in a diversity of ways in goal-oriented programs that build specific, measurable skills. We want to thank our community partners Wells Fargo, CarePartners, UNCA, Warren Wilson College and United Way for lending mentors to make these groups possible!
Check out the gallery below for some photos highlighting the year: