Interview by Uriah Young
QFTD: How did you get involved with Big Brothers Big Sisters of Greater Los Angeles?
Jovan: I was looking to work with an organization that would have an impact on a person-to-person level. Providing direct service to young people in the realm of youth empowerment was paramount to me. I wanted to utilize my background and experience, so when I came across the Director of Development position with Big Brothers Big Sisters, I knew it was the perfect fit. It allows me to marry my passion for empowering youth with my skills in fundraising, while working with kids who live in neighborhoods I can relate to.
QFTD: What experiences in life prepared you to hold the position you hold now with BBBS? What is your role there?
Jovan: I understand where the kids we serve come from. Before my dad moved me to Atlanta, I grew up on the same Compton streets, surrounded by the same situations. I understand the need for an adult in your life showing you that your current situation doesn't have to be your future's reality. Fortunately, I had that in my life, and I feel obligated to helping our kids face their struggles, while expanding their opportunities. I had adults in my life who cared about my future and showed me how to take a path paved with healthy decisions. That is what BBBS is all about...connecting kids who need a caring adult in their life with a person they can talk to, learn from, and be inspired by.
As the Director of Development, I have the responsibility of meeting our fundraising goals. I've been in this field since graduating from Hampton University in 2001. Spending seven years in DC, at non-profit organizations, I was able to help raise money through events and corporate partnerships. Although I've raised funds for several causes across different sectors, I am very excited to be with BBBSLA, helping to grow its budget, while serving kids in the Los Angeles area.
QFTD: The goal off BBBS is to empower inner-city youth, helping them reach their full potential. How does BBBS accomplish this worthy goal?
Jovan: We accomplish this by matching our mentors (Bigs) with our kids (Littles), developing one-on-one mentoring relationships between caring adults and youth who need them. We recruit Bigs from our local communities through businesses and social marketing campaigns. Our Littles come to us from schools we partner with and through parents who bring them in. We try our best to match according to similar interests and location proximity. This increases consistent interaction, which builds stronger relationships.
QFTD: Why do some youth in your region need the BBBS program?
Jovan: There are over 600,000 at-risk youth living in Los Angeles County, and it is our goal to help positively change the lives of as many of those children as possible. The kids in our area face all kinds of challenges: many have an incarcerated parent, many deal with the existence of gang activity, several have high levels of drug activity in their community...so we try to find those kids and help them through mentoring. We have a prevention based model, so where these risk factors are high in the Los Angeles community, we try to reach those kids before they get caught up in negative activities. Our impact is huge because our efforts touch everyone involved, as the process reinforces in the minds of our youth the importance of giving back to their communities when they become adults.
QFTD: What attributes or skills does a volunteer need in order to be an effective Big Brother or Big Sister?
Jovan: You just need time and will! Our kids really need our volunteers, so the goal is to vet each Big so that we are assured the relationship will last. Several different factors go into the application and interview process, and we look for people who are responsible, friendly, active, available and ready. Of course, child safety is our number one priority, so we make sure our volunteers understand this requirement and are in compliance with the BBBS guidelines.
QFTD: What is a particular "feel good" story you're familiar with where a youth benefited from BBBS?
Jovan: There are so many stories. The ones that hit home the most are those gut wrenching stories of children who are facing insane circumstances at such a young age. Recently, at our National Conference in Denver, a man told the story of meeting his Big. His mother was very ill when he came to the organization, and he was basically watching her die. He had an absentee father and had to be the grown-up at age 14, taking care of his siblings. Then, he met his Big Brother, who helped him see past the turmoil and escape it from time to time...a trip to the beach, going to the movies, riding in a convertible for the first time, feeling like he was something. You meet them now in 2013, almost 20 years later, and they are basically family members. The Little, now an adult, is a successful business man living in NY with his wife and children. He is currently a Big to his Big Brother's nephew. And to him, everything he has become is because of the day his Big Brother walked into his life. This example, like many from BBBS, brings you to tears and makes you realize this organization's worth!
QFTD: What can someone interested in becoming a BB or BS do to get involved? Do they have to donate time, or can they make a monetary donation?
Jovan: Both! We need volunteers to do our work, and we ask for at least a one-year commitment in our program. Hoping to serve 2,000 youth by 2014, we need Bigs to accomplish this goal. We also need funds to be able to have the support staff and resources necessary to manage and grow our programs. To be involved in any capacity, you can visit www.bbbsla.org and click on the Get Involved tab to start the process. To those reading this interview, please join our amazing family as a Big, a Little, or a donor.
To see the great work that Big Brothers and Big Sisters of LA has been doing, click below.