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Out Front, BBBS partner to offer LGBTQ mentoring program

Out Front, BBBS partner to offer LGBTQ mentoring program. (Jake Berent/WWMT)

A new partnership between an LGBTQ organization and Big Brothers, Big Sisters Kalamazoo is aiming to mentor youth in a new, more effective way.

The two organizations are playing on each others' strengths to get kids the type of mentoring they need, launching the "Big Pride" program.

Michael Cleggs, of Out Front Kalamazoo, said Big Brothers, Big Sisters are experts in mentoring and they will help improve upon an already in-place mentoring program.

"They just improved on what we already had, and that's what we needed, to support our youth better," Cleggs said.

Amy Kuchta of Big Brothers, Big Sisters said the key to a good big brother or big sister relationship is trust, and understanding. BBBS requires the mentor, called 'Big's' and the mentee, called 'Littles', to spend time together every week to build their relationship. On top of that, BBBS has support staff that make sure things are going in a positive direction.

"We have professional staff who are assigned to each match, and what they do is they work with the parent child and volunteer for the duration of t he match to make sure everyone has the resources they need," Kuchta said.

For a community that values being individual as much as the LGBTQ community, Cleggs said kids struggling with their sexual identity often don't have someone they trust to look up to, and experience tough situations when their peers don't understand them.

"They don't have peers who want to take the chance to get to know them, or won't judge them for how they look or how they sound," Cleggs said. "With a mentor, they have an outlet where they can reach and talk to about anything, whether that just be some of the school issues they're going through, or normal teenage conversations they just don't know how to react to."

"The goal is to identify every kid in the LGBTQ community who needs a role model," Kuchta said. "We know there has been about 20 kids so far who have asked for this, and we haven't even publicized it yet. I think there really is a tremendous need for this."

Cleggs and Kuchta said they're looking forward to helping youth in a new, more personalized way, but they need volunteers from the LGBTQ community to step up. There's roughly 20 kids interested in the program, but Kuchta said they only have about 5 mentors.

"We're initially looking for LGBTQ Adults because we know they have gone through the experiences that our youth are going through," Kuchta said.

Finding common ground is the key to success for Big's & Little's.

"That's really the success of our program, is finding adults who have had similar experiences to some of our youth and intentionally connecting them so they can share that experience and life journey to make the biggest impact," Kuchta said.

"It's just important for kids to understand that there are people like themselves who can support them when they don't have the support at home," Cleggs said.

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