Many of the children served by Big Brothers Big Sisters of Ventura County live in economically challenging situations, making the holiday season an especially difficult time for these youngsters and their families.
The Holiday Angels Program helps by providing holiday gifts for these children and their siblings, as well as support for their parents.
“It’s not a gift exchange with a location,” explains Danica Selvaggio, of Simi Valley, vice president of marketing and recruitment for Big Brothers Big Sisters of Ventura County.
“Folks come in and support our organization by sponsoring a child’s wish list,” says Selvaggio, noting that the organization serves 1,500 youths a year, as well as their siblings and families.
“That’s what makes our Holiday Angels program special,” Selvaggio says. “Even though a child’s sibling might not be matched with a Big Brother or Big Sister, we want their siblings to be recognized. Even though we’re focusing on providing support for this youth and their mentor, we have to serve the entire issue by serving the entire family. So our Holiday Angels program includes everybody in the family.”
Here’s how the Holiday Angels program works: Parents or guardians provide “Wish Lists” with items their child needs and wants.
“We get as much information as possible from the parent in terms of favorite colors, themes, sizes—that way gifts are personalized to each individual child and not just a generic gift,” Selvaggio says. “We pass each wish list on to a donor who shops for items from the list, then delivers the unwrapped gifts to our office. You may choose to get as many angels as you wish.”
Harbor Freight Tools, for instance, took on more than 100 wish lists this year.
“Harbor Freight Tools has been amazing,” Selvaggio says. “In 2016, they asked for 35 wish lists and it went up from there. They got every single child with a wish list everything they wanted on their list—all their needs, all their wants. They rallied their staff and everybody got involved and invested. And they got to see the difference they were making with these kids.”
For more than 100 years, Big Brothers Big Sisters has operated with the belief that every child has the ability to succeed and thrive in life. Big Brothers Big Sisters makes meaningful, monitored matches between adult volunteers called “Bigs” and children called “Littles,” ages 6 through 18, in communities across the country.
Big Brothers Big Sisters of Ventura County believes that all children should have the opportunity to succeed in life and live up to their full potential. The mission of the nonprofit organization is to provide all children facing adversity with professionally supported, one-to-one mentoring relationships that change their lives for the better, forever.
The Little Brothers and Little Sisters enrolled in the mentoring programs see big results. For instance, 98% graduate from high school on time, and are 90% more likely to enroll in college. In other statistics, 89% have higher self-esteem, 83% have a better attitude toward school and 71% have improved academic performance. Additionally, 75% are more likely to obtain a bachelor’s degree.
One-to-one mentoring is considered crucial for these Little Brothers and Little Sisters, who are faced with more diversity than ever before. For example, 75% of Littles come from single-parent households, 55% have been exposed to abuse, violence or neglect, and 31% have had an incarcerated parent.
“In Ventura County, we have over 150 kids on our wait list—these are kids that are waiting to be matched,” Selvaggio says. “We go deeply into our screening process to determine who’s going to be the right holistic match for the child. So we are always looking for people to be mentors.”
Being matched with a mentor is possibly the best gift for the children, Selvaggio adds.
“If anybody’s interested in doing more long-term giving by becoming a mentor, we would love to have them give us a call and I can talk them through the process,” Selvaggio says.
Those interested in fulfilling a child’s wish list through the Holiday Angels Program and those interested in mentoring, can contact Big Brothers Big Sisters of Ventura County at 805.484.2282.
“A few hundred kids will have wish lists,” Selvaggio says. “We collect as many wish lists as we’re able to, and we will collect up through Christmas. We will make sure that every child who gives us a wish list will have their wishes fulfilled.”