Relationships Change People, Not Programs

Relationships Change People, Not Programs

by Kwame Johnson

I’ve been the President and CEO of Big Brothers Big Sisters of Metro Atlanta for only a few months now, but I’ve been a fan of the organization for the majority of my career for two reasons: the impact and the results. What is most vital about our approach is that it’s relationship-based. We believe that relationships change people, not programs. How can an individual form a relationship with another individual and change that person’s situation? That’s the power of change: regardless of what zip code they live in, regardless of their family dynamic, that relationship element has produced amazing results for Big Brothers Big Sisters Metro Atlanta .

Personal relationships, which can look like a small step, can create big change. We served nearly 2,000 children in 2017 and 98% were promoted to the next grade level, 98% graduated from high school on time, and 99% avoided the juvenile justice system. We have these positive statistics on the micro-level and I want to see that multiplied across metro Atlanta; can you just imagine what kind of city we could have if each child in Atlanta had a mentor in his or her life?

The boys who are struggling the most are particularly African American. Having the right role models in their lives, men who have achieved and can show them the way, would change their lives. That was definitely a big part of my success. My first mentor in life was my track coach in high school, Coach Maynard. Maynard was one of the most influential of any mentor I’ve had because he helped me get my life back on the right track. He helped me graduate from high school on time when I was in jail. He helped me get into college and get a track scholarship. Through all of these different issues, Maynard stuck with me and without that relationship I wouldn’t be in the place I’m in right now.

If everyone took a moment and thought of the different people who impacted their life, whether the smallest gesture or something more long term, you would realize just how powerful mentoring can be.

People tend to think it has to be this huge effort to change someone’s life, but sometimes just one little thing – just being there – is enough.

I always say that it takes three things to help a person change their situation. The first is removing barriers. The second thing is empowerment. I believe that Big Brothers Big Sisters empowers children and shows them that they can do anything, they just need someone to believe in them. The third is hope. Even if you take away the first two, if you can get a child to be hopeful that their situation will change, it doesn’t matter how tough it is, they will pull through. We [Big Brothers Big Sisters] create hope for young people that they can go to the next level and they can do it.

Time and time again we hear from our volunteers that they come into our organization expecting to make a difference in a child’s life. What they come to learn is that, as a result, their life is also changed forever. If you have ever thought about becoming a Big Brother or Big Sister, what do you have to lose? You can make a difference in the life of a child today.

Stand with us. Become a mentor. 

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