Eckerd Kids Partners with Big Brothers Big Sisters of Tampa Bay to Bridge Educational Gap for Foster Youth

Tampa, Fla. – National research continues to recognize mentoring as a key strategy for improving outcomes for at-risk youth. Eckerd Kids, the organization that manages the largest child welfare system in the State of Florida serving over 6,000 foster youth and their families, recently announced a new partnership with Big Brothers Big Sisters of Tampa Bay to provide 133 foster youth with a mentor that can support their journey through the foster care system.

“Eckerd Kids is excited to bring private dollars to the child welfare system to enhance the experience of kids placed in kinship care,” Lorita Shirley, Eckerd Kids Chief of Program Services said.

Big Brothers Big Sisters, the oldest and largest youth mentoring organization in the nation, carefully matches at-risk youth with caring, adult role models. Research has shown youth enrolled in the program are more likely to improve in school and in their relationships with family and friends, and less likely to skip school or use illegal drugs or alcohol. Last year 99 percent of the Tampa Bay children in the program had no involvement with the juvenile justice system, and 97 percent were promoted to the next grade level.

“The Big Brothers Big Sisters program of mentoring really works, and we are excited and honored by this opportunity to work with foster youth in Hillsborough, Pinellas and Pasco counties in partnership with Eckerd Kids,” said Stephen Koch, President and CEO of Big Brothers Big Sisters of Tampa Bay. “While not a parent, a Big Brother or Big Sister mentor is an adult friend who can have a life-long positive impact on a child by providing that youth a different perspective on life and its opportunities. This will be an exceptional volunteer opportunity to work with some great kids.”

Every mentor assigned through this partnership will undergo a thorough background check and stringent interview and match process. This screening will allow Big Brothers Big Sisters an opportunity to better match the mentor with a foster youth based on the child’s challenges, unique interests, location, personalities and preferences. The goal is to create a match that will grow into a lasting, impactful friendship.

The mentors will be required to commit to a minimum of 15 months of service and spend an average of 8 hours per month with their assigned foster youth, completing activities that promote improved education and social skills. Specific activities might include providing homework support, working with the youth on achieving gaps in educational benchmarks, taking a child to a museum, or simply listening to the youth and providing advice and inspiration. Mentors will plan activities that will occur at the child’s school, foster care placement or within the community.