Today in our Core Connections Feature I have the privilege of featuring Terry Hickey, President and CEO at an organization that’s near and dear to my family, Big Brothers Big Sisters of the Greater Chesapeake. Each February my wife Renee and I help organize and promote Rock for Kid – ? Sake, an incredibly fun (and important) fundraising event whose proceeds directly benefit BBBS in our region. Since Rock for Kid – ? Sake is just a few weeks away I wanted to feature Terry and also generate some interest in the RFKS event. With food and drink and 2 live bands, it’s a great night for a great cause and I’d like to encourage all of my connections to consider attending or sponsoring. Without further ado, please get to know Terry Hickey.
Your background is in law, how did you make the jump to what you’re doing now with BBBS?
I have a legal background, but not in the traditional sense. For over a decade, I taught classes at the Univ. of MD School of Law. I was a clinician, which means I taught students how to practice in real-life situations. My primary area of expertise was juvenile justice – specifically how children get into the system and what happens while they are there. After years of studying the issues impacting young people, I made the decision to join Big Brothers Big Sisters. I wanted to take what I had learned and apply it in a direct service setting. One goal was to begin serving older youth, finding them mentors and helping them explore college and career options.
What’s the most unique aspect of how BBBS engages volunteers?
Our agency’s capacity to serve children is completely dependent on the availability of volunteers. That’s why we work closely with every prospective Big Brother and Sister to match them with a child who shares their interests. Once we match a Big and a Little, we provide them with their own case manager who is there to support them and ensure the success of their relationship. It is rare these days to provide volunteers with such individualized support, but we are very proud of our model. It is the main reason our match length averages over two years.
Many non-profits struggle with long-term volunteer engagement but it sounds like BBBS volunteers are in it for the long haul. Why do you think that is?
Our real challenge is the recruitment of new volunteers – getting people to take that initial “leap of faith. ” Once matched, our volunteer matches last over two years on average. A lot of this has to do with the professional case management staff we assign to support the matches, but a great deal of it has to do with the power of human nature and the bonds that form between carefully matched children and adults.
A year ago you set out to triple the number of mentors in your program. How’s that going?
We’ve managed to slow the gradual decline in the number of mentors that began back in 2008 when federal funding was dramatically reduced. What I didn’t realize immediately when I took this position is how much our growth is based on having the right number of professional staff in the right places to recruit volunteers, make and support matches. Over the past two years, we have worked to put the right people in place and we are focused on growing the number of youth served. That’s why events like Rock for Kid – ? Sake are so important. We can spread the message about why mentoring is important while also raising funds to support the work.
The last two years have seen corporations of all sizes increase their community service budgets and efforts substantially. How have you seen businesses answer the call to serve on an organizational level?
There may be higher funding and involvement levels, but there is an incredible amount of competition for time and resources. Our region has a large number of charities doing amazing work and there is pressure on corporations to partner with as many of them as possible. Our strategy has been to align our mentoring programs with their corporate missions and to provide employees with the opportunity to integrate mentoring with other charitable pursuits.
What’s the simplest way for business leaders to develop a community service partnership with BBBS- especially for organizations that may never have launched such an initiative before?
We call it a “corporate briefing. ” It was created to help prospective partners engage with our agency for the first time. We have a team trained to interact with staff as a group and work to design a custom corporate involvement strategy based on culture, interest and corporate mission- it could be a site mentoring program at a school or in the office, or groups of employees signing up to be mentors in the community together. Our agency also works with corporate partners to provide unique marketing opportunities that improve everyone’s bottom line.
What’s the most rewarding part of your job?
I’ve been in this position for two years, and yet I could already make a very long list of memorable moments. However, nothing inspires me like spending time with newly matched “Big – and “Littles. ” Our agency hosts activities throughout the year and watching mentors and mentees interact with each other reminds me what a difference they are making in each other’s lives. Watching a young person beginning to trust an adult, often for the first time, is a gift.
What will 2015 hold for BBBS of the Greater Chesapeake? Where do you hope to be this time next year?
The overriding theme is growth. We plan to grow the number of children served, particularly older youth and teens. We want to utilize our mentoring model to make a measurable impact on key outcomes like improved school attendance and literacy; partnering with other nonprofits who are working in these areas. We are placing full-time staff in Central Maryland counties so we can serve them more efficiently and we are searching for more creative ways to partner with new businesses and market our need for mentors to a wider audience around the state. There are currently almost 1,000 children on a wait list for a mentor, and so any strategy has to start there.
*photo credit Baltimore Sun