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Reframe: Episode 69

Everybody Wins: Youth Mentoring that Brings Whole Communities Together

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Mentorship can mean a lot more than simply being a positive presence in the lives of children. Today, it’s also about addressing a variety of social issues by building the kinds of relationships that engage youth in relevant new ways.

On this episode, we speak with Tim Pehlke, a program design manager with Big Brothers Big Sisters of America, who’s work on innovative programs such as Bigs in Blue shows how youth mentorship can be a win-win for entire communities.

Read the transcript

James Loy: This is, "Reframe," the podcast from the College of Education, Health and Society on the campus of Miami university in Oxford, Ohio.

James Loy: Big Brothers Big Sisters of America is one of the oldest and largest youth organizations in the country and it has one ultimate goal, to help all children reach their full potential through mentorship and support. But today, mentorship means a lot more than simply being a positive presence in the life of youth. On this episode, we speak with Tim Pehlke who is among the innovators helping adults, large organizations and even entire communities engage children in relevant new ways. Tim has played a key role in implementing several pioneering initiatives at Big Brothers Big Sisters, including the popular Big in Blue program, which addresses deep social issues by improving the relationship between the police and the people they protect. He's also a Miami graduate who's using his expertise in family science to help others considering this field pursue rewarding new career paths.

Tim Pehlke: My name is Tim Pehlke and I'm the program design manager on the foundation grants team at Big Brother Big Sister of America. I have really, a really cool job. My job is really to find those diamonds in the rough, the programs that are new and innovative among our network of 240 plus Big Brother Big Sister agencies across the country. To be able to develop pilot projects, we can roll those up and expand and use those really across the country.

James Loy: So as a program design manager, it seems like you're doing a lot of things that people might not usually associate with earning a degree in family science. Are these things that are kind of unique in this field or how do they factor into what you originally studied before you found yourself on this career path?

Tim Pehlke: I would say I maybe pushed the limits a little bit and especially early on, I had a lot of people question, "Why do you have this degree? What's the value that it adds?" Really, that degree has been the fuel not only for getting started in my career, but now that I'm further along, it really is something I can draw back on that skill base that others that maybe don't have a degree, an advanced degree or some of the experiences that I was able to have at Miami in terms of service learning and involvement of the community, that I can draw back on that knowledge and experience and really use that to provide a perspective that others wouldn't have.

James Loy: I think most of us are familiar with Big Brothers Big Sisters, especially their goal to provide mentorship services between children and adults, but your role as a program design manager seems to either expand that goal or to kind of go beyond it in unique ways that I think people might not normally associate with an organization like this. So what are some of the projects you've worked on, what are some examples of what you've been in charge of and how does that align with what this organization is trying to do?

Tim Pehlke: A couple examples. One is the Comcast Beyond School Walls Program. This is actually the largest workplace mentoring program nationally and it's been around for over 10 years. Really, what's cool about it is not only do you get mentoring, but they get exposure to workplace opportunities being able to interact with adults in a workplace and they see through that, what it's like to work in a job. The program, the way it operates; you traveled to a local Comcast, NBC universal office location, either once or twice a month and they do this during the school year. The program includes lunch, educational programming and opportunities for mentors to interact individually with you. So they get both the one-to-one mentoring, but they also get the opportunity to learn alongside an adult who coaches them.

Tim Pehlke: Just to give a few examples, youth learn about digital literacy, being able to learn essentially computer skills and the types of things that you would need to succeed in the 21st century job, and with that the soft skills, being able to interact with people to communicate well, what it's like to have a job, go to work every day, how to interact appropriately with coworkers in the workplace, as well as... One of the great things about being a partner with Comcast is that they're developing a lot of new and unique technologies in the entertainment space and our youth get the opportunity to see some of these things in action. Just to give an example, our youth at the Philadelphia office, they actually get introduced to their mentor on the set of The Voice. So they actually use the chairs and everything.

James Loy: Is it hard to get into that program? How selective are kids who get a chance to do that?

Tim Pehlke: It varies a little bit by school, how they actually choose the youth. It could be that they're recommended by a teacher or a guidance counselor, or in some cases the parent may request that they participate in the program. But there's usually recognition that this is mostly a program that targets middle school, high school students. So just to give an example, from our Northeast Ford office in Jacksonville, they actually partner with Career Academy and its youth there that are in a class that is focused really on digital literacy type topics. They've developed a curriculum that really fits along with what the kids are learning in school. So they get an opportunity in their mentoring time to be able to apply what they've learned in a supportive environment.

James Loy: So there's different things in different areas, but no matter where you're in, it seems like you can find what might be available around your area. For example, in Cincinnati, so local schools here for example, could contact Big Brothers and Big Sisters to find out what's available here and how they could nominate their students for things like this. Right?

Tim Pehlke: Yes, definitely. The Butler County and Cincinnati offices are both great. They have a long history of successfully serving the youth in the community. I would encourage businesses and other organizations that are interested in partnering to really reach out to them.

James Loy: Another thing I know that has been a very exciting new program that Big Brother Big Sisters has been involved in is the Bigs in Blue program, which I know is also a part of your job. Can you explain a bit more about what the Bigs in Blue program is, what it hopes to achieve and how you're involved?

Tim Pehlke: Yes, James. Bigs in Blue is really an exciting program. We've all seen in the news examples of negative interactions between police and young people. This is a really a way to be able to counteract that and through relationships because one of the things that we've found is that it's very rare for youth and police to be in situations where they interact individually in a positive way, in the national community where youth live. There are currently 101 agencies that have a Bigs and Blue program right now in 35 States. So over a very short period of time, it's been able to really grow. Just to give you a few examples, we have mentors that are police officers, sheriffs, deputies, state highway patrol, FBI officers and other law enforcement.

James Loy: It seems like it's a way to really expand the scope of Big Brothers Big Sisters and actually in quite a profound way because it's going beyond just that positive role model, but to actually incorporate civic leaders and entire civic organizations in a very direct way.

Tim Pehlke: Well, one of the things in working in the youth development space, there's always a fight to remain relevant. With that, it's being responsive to the issues that come up in everyday life. This is a great example of us being able to be responsive to a need in the community that really, relationships are the best way to be able to address.

James Loy: It definitely has that relevance. It doesn't take much to just turn on the news and see the growing, confrontational divide between certain segments of society and also certain law enforcement organizations. So to begin to be able to sort of find ways to improve that relationship seems very relevant and very important today. I know this program is fairly new, but how do you hope it evolves from here? If a youth gets involved now, how do you hope that that continues to improve, maybe their outlook on life or even their relationship with law enforcement organizations? How do you hope it evolves going forward?

Tim Pehlke: That's a great question, James. Number one, really it's that really building relationships. That is number one with this program. Being able to change attitudes you have towards police officers, but also the attitudes that police officers have towards youth to provide a platform where youth have opportunities to build an understanding with adults that are police officers and understand that they're real people just like them. I guess secondary benefits, it's exponential. In a way, police... Youth may decide that they want to become police officers. It also may mean that how they talk about police officers with other young people. I've heard examples through this program of young people really correcting their friends when they say negative things about police officers because they have a personal relationship with a police officer that they know cares about them and really wants them to do well.

Tim Pehlke: So really raising up a generation of young people that have had positive interactions with police can have secondary impact in terms of how their neighbors, their friends, their family members understand police and their role in the community. On the flip side of that, police officers that have a better understanding of young people and their neighborhoods and communities are going to be more effective in their role as well. So really, everyone wins. Let me give you a couple examples. One, Big Brother Luke is a Sergeant with the Los Angeles Police Department and their program got started in 2017 in partnership with the Los Angeles Rams, NFL team. Luke, one of the things he's been great at is being able to go to the roll calls and represents Big Brother Big Sister and recruiting officers, but he's also been a great mentor with the organization.

Tim Pehlke: Here's a quote from Luke, "From what I see, Bigs in Blue police mentoring kids, it's not a solution; it's the only solution to all of the issues that we are having in the community," he says. "I truly believe that when we talk about community engagements, this is the best form of community engagement out there."

James Loy: So say you have a community who learns about Bigs and Blue, this sounds great, this sounds perfect, sounds exactly what we need and what we want to happen. What's the next step for them to make this a reality in their community?

Tim Pehlke: First step will be to reach out to your local Big Brother Big Sister agency. If you look at bbbs.org, you'll be able to access a directory feature that will provide contact info.

James Loy: What does it look like for your role as a program design manager to actually set these programs up? Is that something you're directly involved in?

Tim Pehlke: That really falls into the wheelhouse of what I do on an everyday basis. My role is really to support our local agencies getting this program started. With that, it's providing individual consultations with agencies on best practices on how to start a Bigs and Blue program. The second, really coaching them through the process, developing resources and supports. We've done webinars, we developed handbooks and other guides that can be adapted for local use. So really, we developed well organized, well-oiled machine that we've been able to have agencies not start from zero with this program, but learn from the experiences of other agencies across our network and through that know that some of the things that work well and some of the things that don't work well.

James Loy: That speaks again, back directly to the way your role uniquely intersects with different ways you can use a family science degree, I think. There's mentorship involved, sure. But there's also mostly, program design and management and working with communities and bolstering the way local leaders build relationships with youth and now in exciting new ways that's very relevant with Bigs in Blue for example. So is this a way that maybe someone considering this career path can sort of imagine new possibilities if they're not interested, for example, in pursuing the traditional counselor career path?

Tim Pehlke: One of the real benefits of a family science degree is the versatility that it provides. Now, I've known people that have went through the program with me that are doing all sorts of different things. They're working in the child welfare space-

James Loy: Sure.

Tim Pehlke: They may have went on to get a counseling degree. They may be working in ministry in a church setting or they could actually be working in a corporate environment doing something completely unrelated. But the skills that they develop through this degree in terms of being able to understand how to use information and be a consumer of data, that knowledge of basics about how families and how people operate are things that are applicable regardless of the type of job that you do. So I think one thing is being open to where the opportunities lie. When I started on my career, I had no idea that things will go the way they did. But I've really enjoyed the journey and I think the degree that I've been able to obtain through Miami University has really been kind of the rocket fuel that has helped me to get where I am today.

James Loy: Tim Pehlke is the program design manager for Big Brothers Big Sisters of America. And to find more information about Bigs in Blue and other programs, you can visit bbbs.org. And thank you for listening to the, "Reframe," podcast. There are many more episodes available for free on Apple Podcasts, on Spotify or wherever you wish to listen.