The year was 1982. Ronald Reagan was president, “I Love Rock ‘n’ Roll,” by Joan Jett & the Blackhearts dominated the charts, Late Night With David Letterman debuted on NBC, and a first class letter could be mailed for 20 cents. In Santa Cruz, one of the worst storms in history caused widespread flooding and the tragic deaths of 22 people. Youth crime was also in the news, as studies were released indicating that youth from low-income single-parent homes had significantly higher school drop out and juvenile detention rates. A group of concerned members of the community came together to address this issue, seeking a substantive solution to the problem. The result was the creation of Big Brothers Big Sisters of Santa Cruz County, which that year opened its doors on Seabright Avenue and created its first mentoring matches.
From its inception, Big Brothers Big Sisters sought to serve hard-to-reach youth. Flyers were distributed to schools and social workers, and the response was instantaneous. In the first year of operation, with a budget of only $55,000, over two dozen children were matched. Those first “Little Brothers” and “Little Sisters” are now in their late thirties and forties, many with families of their own.
The financial support of the community has always been pivotal to the organization’s success. The United Way supported the organization from its start. When Big Brothers Big Sisters held its first Bowl For Kids’ Sake event in 1983, at what was then known as the Surf Bowl, it was the only nonprofit organization to have this type of fundraiser. The organization expanded its fundraising to include foundation grants, direct gifts, and jurisdictional grants, and initiated the successful Day on the Monterey Bay Regatta in 1991.
At the heart of Big Brothers Big Sisters of Santa Cruz County’s mission is its commitment to help youth to achieve their potential through quality mentoring relationships. Since its first days in 1982, the strategies to achieve this have expanded. In 1990, the first bilingual staff was hired, and all Agency materials were translated, so as to reach the county’s Spanish-speaking community. The successful after-school Enrichment and Mentoring Program was initiated in Watsonville in 1994, and has since served over 1,500 children.
In 2012, Big Brothers Big Sisters celebrated 30 successful years of mentoring. Nearly 5,000 children had been served since the doors were opened. With the support of volunteer mentors – the true unsung heroes of our community – these youth have avoided risky behaviors, completed school, and as such, have the ability to achieve their potential.