Across Ventura County, youth are facing more adversity than ever before.

Sometimes we see this through struggles at school, where a young person is having trouble balancing academic expectations and pressures; or perhaps we see youth who are being raised in environments where they’re exposed to deadly drugs, gang violence, sexual exploitation and bullying at younger and younger ages. Maybe they’re lost behind the screen of a cell phone, numbing themselves to their life stressors and connecting with strangers.

More than ever before, youth in our community need someone to connect with. It’s our responsibility as adults to make sure those connections are positive, healthy and impactful in all the right ways. That’s why Big Brothers Big Sisters of Ventura County (BBSVC) is always looking for mentors—volunteer role models who are willing to step up and defend the potential of youth in Ventura County.

“I was really lost for a while,” says Michael*, a mentee who meets up regularly with his mentor on weekends to go hiking or just grab lunch. “And when I first met Alan*, I wasn’t really sure what he was going to expect of me. But he didn’t really expect anything. We just get together, get outside and talk, and I never feel like he’s judging me. I didn’t even realize he was helping me through the mess I was dealing with, because he never made it about that.”

From Calabasas to Ventura, from Piru to Oxnard, BBSVC has been serving nearly 1,500 youth like Michael every year: youth who are facing adversity through the foster system, who are just beginning to brush up against the juvenile justice system, who are raising themselves and their siblings while a dedicated single parent works three jobs to make ends meet, and so many more who have their own challenges and stories. By matching a mentee with a carefully screened, professionally supported volunteer mentor, BBSVC gives our youth the tools they need to find their own unique path toward success where they can reach their full potential.

Michael remembers the first time he realized what an impact that Alan was having on his life.

“I hadn’t even finished this bio[logy] test, but I realized I knew the answers. The next time we met up, I told him that I was pretty sure I had passed, and I knew it was because he had taken the time to walk me through the chapter,” recalls Michael.

BBSVC celebrates its mission to provide all youth facing adversity with professionally supported, one-to-one mentoring relationships that change their lives for the better, forever. The goal is to get to know a wonderful youth, make a difference and have fun as you learn together. When meeting, matches can decide what they want to do: some matches, like Michael and Alan, like flexibility (“Let’s go to the beach tomorrow!”). Some matches like establishing schedules (“Tuesday is our bowling night.”). BBSVC staff introduces matches based on what works for every participant involved—in addition to schedule, that includes having similar interests, congruent personalities and common goals.

Consistency and commitment are the cornerstone of these mentoring programs, and it results in mentoring matches between “Bigs” (volunteer mentors) and “Littles” (mentees) that become lifelong friendships.

“I feel like we’ll be friends forever,” Michael smiles. “He’s always been there for me, and I can’t say that about everyone in my life. It means a lot to me.”

As many mentoring matches as are being introduced every week, BBSVC will always have more young people applying to be a part of the program, and so the need for volunteer mentors continues to grow. Across Ventura County, there are currently 150 youth who are waiting to meet their mentor, that special person who they will remember for the rest of their life as their driving influence.

Whether a mentor, a volunteer, a community leader or an advocate, we can only start building healthier communities when we support each other; with that in mind, it’s more important than ever to bring our county’s youth and what they need to thrive into focus. BBSVC is bringing together the Bigs and Littles who will change the world, and we invite all of Ventura County to be a part of it.

If you are interested in learning more about how you can become a mentor, Big Brothers Big Sisters of Ventura County wants to hear from you. Call 805.484.2282, email info@bbsvc.org, text BBSVC to 51555, or visit FB and IG @bbsvc.

*names have been changed for privacy