Terry Hickey is the President and CEO of Big Brothers Big Sisters of the Greater Chesapeake. A local affiliate of the youth mentoring 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization Big Brothers Big Sisters of America, BBBSGC nurtures children in adverse circumstances by providing them with dedicated adult mentors in a one-to-one basis. Founded in 1904, BBBS enjoys an international reputation as a leading charitable organization today. When surveyed, 83% of former “Little” siblings agree that their relationships in the program instilled them with enduring, positive values. Adults interested in becoming mentors can sign up at biglittle.org.
Terry Hickey spoke with Baltimore Sun reporter Sloane Brown for this interview.
SLOANE BROWN: You know, Big Brothers Big Sisters is an organization I think a lot of us have known about—I don’t even remember for how long. So clue me in: how long?
TERRY HICKEY: [Laughs] You’ve known about it for a long time! We started nationally in 1901 and we’ve been in Baltimore since 1952. Fascinating history, but we’ve been serving kids in and around central Maryland, Baltimore city for over 60 years.
Q. Now it started just as “Big Brothers.”
A. Yeah, it started as “Jewish Big Brothers.” It was run in partnership with the Jewish community. They were serving boys back in the 50s, and a group of women from the Zion Baptist Church decided there needed to be an organization for girls. Back then it was very easy to get involved in the national network, and so they created a “Big Sisters” group. And in the 1960s they merged, and became what was then eventually known as Big Brothers Big Sisters of Central Maryland.
Q. And speaking of merging, the organization—and particularly the one here—has a history of merging. Tell me a little bit about how it’s grown and morphed over the years.
A. Yeah, it’s been territorial creep. You know how hard it is to keep a nonprofit in business these days. It’s all about efficiency and serving more and more kids. We eventually merged with Eastern Shore, so we mentor children all over the shore, which—if you look at a map—is really big. There’s a lot of room. We started at Cape County and worked our way all the way down to the lower shore. We also mentor children all through southern Maryland, which is probably an area lot of people don’t know as much about—great area, lots of dedication to this, Calvert, St. Marianne and Charles counties, and then all of Central Maryland. All we don’t serve is far west past Frederick and the DC suburbs.
Q. With you having spread out to these various areas, do you find that that there are different issues that some of the Big Brothers Big Sisters have to deal with, with the kids that they’re mentoring in some different parts of the state? Particularly, say those of us—and I’ll speak for myself, who lives more in the Baltimore area—there are possibly things I’m not thinking of that are really important for kids in southern Maryland or the eastern shore.
A. Right, so mentoring is mentoring. And the way we do mentoring, which we can get into a little bit, is very specific. We’ve been doing it this way for a long time so the model’s the same. Kids are generally, you know young people, are lots of way the same: you can take a young person off to the side in Baltimore city or a young boy in Salisbury and talk about what they want to do, and there’s a lot to the environment that may have influenced them, but in the end you see two kids playing, throwing a ball—they’re kids. The difference I think is a lot about perception. What is a Baltimore city youth? Our biggest challenge is overcoming perception. In places like the eastern shore, southern Maryland, parts of some of the counties, we can just get closer to people. I think our ability to convince people to take a leap of faith and commit at least a year of their life, four to six hours a week mentoring a child, is little bit easier. In the city there are a lot of messages, there are a lot of really great groups out there, there’s a thousand ways you can help children. So what do you pick? But I’m going to go out on a limb and say I honestly believe the key to saving the city, changing a kid’s lot in life, is going to be through mentoring—connected to a lot of other things—but I really think that it’s got to start with mentoring no matter where you are.