Philadelphia Amachi Moves Full Steam Ahead

Big Brothers Big Sisters Southeastern Pennsylvania (BBBS SEPA) recognizes that all eyes are on them as they move toward their fourth year with the Amachi program. “We’re really proud of Amachi here in Philadelphia,” said CEO Marlene Olshan. “We’re setting the example for the rest of the nation, and we’re really excited about that.”

With 357 matches as of July 31, 2004, Philadelphia Amachi is gearing up for expansion. BBBS SEPA recently completed a marketing campaign to non-Amachi affiliated churches in the Philadelphia area. They hope to have between 750 and 1000 Amachi matches by 2006.

Although these may seem like ambitious goals, for the past few years, BBBS SEPA has been working non-stop to improve its organizational structure. This includes revising standards and procedures and investing in infrastructure and technology. According to Olshan, the Amachi program has been a big beneficiary of these larger BBBS SEPA improvements. She said the two keys to having a successful program are agency infrastructure and strong church liaisons. Looking back, Olshan says these were the agency’s biggest challenges when beginning the Amachi program.

Working Through the Kinks
“The biggest challenge was having the organizational capacity and infrastructure in place for the onslaught of volunteers,” said Olshan. “It was unprecedented at that time to have that many volunteers sign up. Also, this was the first time that Big Brothers Big Sisters, in its 90-year history, went out to ask people if they would allow their children to be in the program. Our history has always been families calling us and waiting for us to get a Big in the kid’s life. In Amachi, we have to recruit youth!”

Another challenge the organization faced in the beginning was adjusting to the different cultural issues between BBBS SEPA and churches and faith-based institutions, particularly urban African American churches. “There’s just different languages and you need people to bridge that,” said Olshan. “We were blessed by having Reverend Wilson Goode do that for us, and now we have Reverend George Taylor and Deacon Darryl Cofield in that role.”

“I think the churches need to recognize the value that BBBS SEPA brings to the table and BBBS SEPA must recognize the value that the churches bring to the table,” said Deacon Cofield. He and Rev. Ruben Ortiz are the agency’s faith-based partnership development specialists. Rev. Taylor serves as the agency’s director of faith-based partnerships. All three employees spend 100 percent of their time recruiting for Amachi. The rest of the 50-person BBBS SEPA staff spend about 30 percent of their time on Amachi.

Making the Right Match
BBBS SEPA takes great care in making the right match between Amachi mentors and mentees. About a third of the matches have surpassed two years. “We don’t just want anybody mentoring,” said Rev. Taylor. “We want folks who can see the big picture.

They recognize that they are a safety net for these children and that they are to become friends with them and help them to realize that they are important, they are unique, they are special, they can achieve and that people care about them.”

Rev. Taylor mentors a teenage boy whose father is incarcerated and knows from experience how having a mentor can change the direction of a child’s life. “In my case, I don’t know where I would be right now if there had not been a mentor in my life years ago when I was finishing high school and getting ready to go into the service,” said Rev. Taylor. “A mentor who was one of my teachers pulled me aside and told me, ‘You don’t need to go into the service, you need to go to college’ and as a result I got a four-year scholarship, and now I’m someone whose got two masters and [is] in a doctoral program—just because he took a little time with me.”


Fall 2004