Childhood can be a time of many challenges. Big Pals are caring adults age 25 and older who mentor children ages 6-16 from non-traditional or
single-parent families. Big Pals help their Little Pals develop self-esteem, Jewish identity, and lasting relationships that can change their perspective on the world—and make a big impact in their lives!
Why Match Your Child With a Big Pal? Matching your child with a Jewish Big Pal can help them form a lasting, supportive relationship on the journey to adulthood. Studies show children with adult mentors are more confident, do better in school, and have better relationships with their families. Just a few hours a month with a Big Pal can have an impact that lasts forever. Each Little Pal is matched with a Big Pal who is
carefully screened, trained, and supervised by the professional staff
at JFS. Enroll your child today, and see the difference tomorrow!
Why Should You Become a Big Pal? There are more than 4,600 Jewish single parent families in San Diego. Many of the children from these families have been through a divorce, death, or abandonment. By spending time with your Little Pal—twice a month for a few hours—you can change his or her outlook and be a much needed friend. And you never know—your Little Pal might change your life, too.
Go for a walk. BBQ together. See a movie. Hang out at the beach. Shoot some hoops. Or just give some encouragement and advice. However you normally spend your time, chances are you’ll have even more fun with your Little Pal—and you’ll be making a big impact.
Interested Big Pals (age 25 and older) must complete an application, including three references, and complete a screening process and be fingerprinted. Big Pals must also have their own car and provide a full DMV report.
Thinking about becoming a Big Pal or Little Pal? Watch this video to see interviews with program participants and how it’s impacted their life. Thank you to Kristine Diekman, Austin Hill, Phil Levine, and Shayna Benavidez of Cal State University San Marcos for producing this video.
Karen & Marina's Story
Marina, a vivacious 10-year-old, walks outside to greet her Big Pal, Karen, even before she can get out of her car. The two are deep in conversation by the time they make it inside. When asked what they talk about, Marina laughs, “the silly stuff.” She later adds, “I have been with Karen a while, so she is kind of like my family, so I can tell her things that I can’t tell anybody else.” Meredith, Marina’s mother, remarks, “I can see that they have created a very trusting, open relationship. I have no idea what goes on between them most of the time, but I trust that it is all positive because I think highly of Karen.”
Meredith initially heard about Jewish BIGPals through Supporting Jewish Single Parents (SJSP), another JFS program. “For parents like myself who are single parents, while I am fortunate enough to have a lot of family nearby, I am doing it by myself, and I think it’s really important that our kids have people to go to, people to turn to because we all remember what it was like [growing up]. You don’t always want to turn to your parents, and that‘s fine if Marina doesn’t want to talk to me about something. I want her to feel like she has somebody else she can go to, and that’s something that Jewish BIGPals provides.”
In the year and a half since they’ve been matched, Marina and Karen have done a wide array of activities: trips to the zoo and the beach, an anti-bullying workshop, and much more. “We never know what's coming next, but we have such a good time because we try to diversify a lot,” says Karen. They make a point to attend Jewish BIGPals group events, such as the annual Hanukkah party and day of community of service with the Hand Up Youth Food Pantry at JFS. Karen, an event planner, even organized a Jewish BIGPals harbor cruise.
Marina, who had a positive relationship with her first Big Pal, wanted another one after the first moved away from San Diego. She felt more comfortable the second time around because she knew what to expect. “I was kind of worried and happy and excited at the same time.” Karen says, “I feel very fortunate to be paired with Marina because I think [the program] did a great job matching us.” Meredith adds, “I am just really excited to see how their relationship will continue to grow. It is going to be a very pivotal relationship in Marina’s life for many years to come.”
Albert and Ryan's Story
Albert smiled with pride as he watched Ryan walk down the stage at his high school graduation. He thought back to the first day they met and couldn't believe that eleven years had passed. Neither Albert, a 49-year-old social worker, nor Ryan, a shy seven-year-old who had lost his father to cancer, could have predicted that an afternoon playing marbles on the floor together would be the beginning of a life-long friendship.
As participants in Jewish BIGPals, a mentoring program through Jewish Family Service of San Diego, Big Pal Albert and Little Pal Ryan initially committed to seeing each other on a bi-monthly basis. Despite the program’s minimum one-year requirement, they have continued their participation in the program throughout Ryan’s high school years.
“I wasn’t overly excited about getting a Big Pal,” said Ryan, “but since we didn’t have a dad at home, I knew my mom wanted me to have a male role model to look up to.”
Despite Ryan’s initial ambivalence, Albert would continuously show up at Ryan’s front door. The connection didn’t come easily, but they stuck to their monthly hangouts and eventually became friends. “I myself had lost a parent when I was a child. I was too young to realize the consequences of what it had done to my trust in others. I had to earn Ryan’s confidence and respect,” said Albert.
Albert was determined to teach Ryan the value of friendship and loyalty. Now, whenever Ryan has an issue he wants to discuss, he doesn’t hesitate to call Albert for advice.
According to Karen, Ryan’s mom, this could not have been a better match. “Albert has demonstrated to my son what it means to be a friend. That friendship means to give of oneself selflessly and that friendship isn’t always fun,” she said. “Ryan knows that Albert will always be there for him.”
Days that used to be filled with baseball games, miniature golf, and Jewish BIGPals events are now consumed with cafes and college prep. Despite their busy work and school schedules, the two always make time for each other. Before Ryan heads off to college in the fall, he and Albert plan on taking their first road trip together.
We know it’s only a matter of time before Ryan will become a Big Pal.