By Olga Navedo, Latino Mentoring Program Coordinator and Marianna Foral, Partnership Coordinator
One thing that sets Big Brothers Big Sisters apart from other local mentoring programs in Omaha is our Latino/a Mentoring program. Our Latino mentoring program focuses on best serving the specific needs of the Greater Omaha and Council Bluffs Latino/a population. I sat down with Olga Navedo, our Latino Mentoring Coordinator, to talk about our program.
Why does Big Brothers Big Sisters have a Latino Mentoring program and why does it need bi-lingual staff?
It really all comes back to the safety of the child. We have parents in our program whose first language is not English. Part of the strength of the Big Brothers Big Sisters mentoring model is that all three parties – mentees, mentors, and parents – are involved and work together to make the match work. They have to communicate with one another to make a match work and having a mentor or Match Support Specialist who doesn’t speak the same language as the parent prohibits that communication. It’s very difficult to get a translator and we don’t ever want to use the child as a translator for safety reasons.
How is the Latino/a Mentoring program different from the rest of Big Brothers Big Sisters’ work in mentoring?
There are cultural differences. The idea of “mentoring” as a whole is not as familiar in the Latino/a community. It doesn’t come naturally to parents from Latin America to leave their child with a person they are meeting for the first time. It does help a parent to trust a new mentor when they meet them and they are speaking the same language. So there is a learning curve for parents and we work with them.
There is also a cultural need within matches, between the mentor and mentee and even the parent. They may not be from the same country, but it helps bridge the gap with someone who speaks the language and has similar cultural values. It helps nurture the relationship. They may also share the same way of preserving values and cultural traditions that a parent can pass down through generations. Americans from all parts of the world celebrate their culture. This is another way of helping preserve those traditions. Mentoring a Latino/a child is no different than English, just a different language.
What are some things we might not know about the Latino/a Mentoring program?
The amount of hard work and energy we put into making sure the Latino/a community is included and trusts Big Brothers Big Sisters. Part of my job is to get out in the community year-round – not just at Cinco de Mayo (even though we walk in that parade every year) or Latino/a American Heritage Month. We want people to feel like they’re just as much a part of our community as anyone else, all the time. So we have to get out there to let them know we’re here to help them as much as we can. We do outreach in schools, places where parents learn and work, and get to as many fairs and events in the South Omaha community as we can. Every once in a while we find people who are willing to mentor, too!
What is the future of the Latino/a Mentoring program?
Serving more kids with Spanish speaking mentors. Sometimes we have kids who wait a long time because we can’t match them with a person who doesn’t speak the same language as the parent. I also look forward to having Latino/a representation on the board! There are people in South Omaha who could serve on our board and I’m looking for them. The more diversity we have on our board the better we serve all the kids in our program!
What’s one of the biggest challenges in Latino/a mentoring?
It has always been recruiting Spanish speaking mentors. We have had success in growing the program and with name recognition, but we will always need more mentors.
What are some things about the Latino/a mentoring program that you’re proud of?
Over the last 6 years, we’ve increased the visibility of our agency in South Omaha. There are many more community leaders from the Latino/a community involved in our program and we are in more places. When I first started at BBBS, I think we had 14 Bigs who spoke Spanish; I think that has increased to 56 Bigs today.
Any final thoughts on the program?
We truly are the only community-based mentoring program (I’m aware of) that hires bi-lingual match support specialists. There are other programs out there that serve the Latino/a community but none exactly like us. We work closely with these other programs, too. We may offer similar or different services, but we always work together to find someone for these kids.
If you want to see our community grow and have more impact in our city, it’s important for these kids to know that they can be like you someday, too. The only way we can do that is to have people like you get involved in our mission.