Special thanks to guest author Jill Richardson of Big Brothers Big Sisters for this post outlining efforts to recruit mentors who are Alaska Native. For more, go to www.bbbsak.org.

By Jill Richardson
President and CEO
Big Brothers Big Sisters of Alaska

Jill Richardson

Our whole reason for being at Big Brothers Big Sisters of Alaska is to create and support one-on-one mentoring relations that empower youth. We’ve heard from Alaska Native youth — Littles — that having Native mentors is critical for growth, cultural connection and trust building. So when we saw we weren’t recruiting enough Alaska Native Bigs — the adult mentors — we took a step back to ask what we could do differently. At the time, 125 Alaska Native Littles were signed up but only 20 of our mentors were Alaska Native and just five were men! Having Alaska Native-led support systems in place is crucial to fostering healthy growth for our Alaska Native Littles.

We reached out to Native community leaders to help us understand how to be successful. The Alaska Native Justice Center, which offers educational support, behavioral services and family activities in a culturally attuned atmosphere, began optionally co-enrolling our Alaska Native youth in their services. This partnership connects Alaska Native Littles with Indigenous traditions and cultural practices.

To address gaps in mentoring, we contracted a local Alaska Native-run consulting firm, International Data Systems (a subsidiary of Kijik Corp., the village corporation for Nondalton) to survey, interview and guide focus groups to determine the most culturally relevant approach. The survey collected input from over 100 Alaska Native and Native American residents in Alaska. Their insights led us to devise new outreach methods and more effective engagement strategies in 2022. We launched a new marketing campaign featuring success stories of paired Alaska Native Littles and Bigs to share on social media and are presenting to Native corporations and businesses around the state on collaboration opportunities to recruit Bigs and Littles. We are proud to announce our newest partnerships with two Alaska Native corporations, Cook Inlet Region Inc. and Goldbelt Inc., on a campaign to recruit Bigs and increase participation and awareness statewide. And, we hope we can announce even more partnerships like these into the future.

Making memories and learning about culture: Rylie watches Serena, her Big Sister match, cut maktak. They enjoy many activities together, from drinking tea to watching movies to preparing traditional foods. (Photo by Joshua Albeza Branstetter, courtesy of Big Brothers Big Sisters of Alaska)

I’m constantly reminded that Big Brothers Big Sisters of Alaska is most successful when we work in community with others. Sometimes, as is the case with our Alaska Native youth, the best role we can play is to reach out to groups who ignite youth’s “power and promise” with lived experience, and then step to the side to support the match.

Since we officially launched our recruitment campaign in April, eight Alaska Native adult mentors have signed up to participate in the program. We are always looking for more. Reach out at www.bbbsak.org if you would like to connect.

Click below for a short film on impactful matches with Alaska Native mentors.

Big Brothers Big Sisters of Alaska creates and supports “one-to-one mentoring relationships that ignite the power and promise of youth.”