Big Brothers Big Sisters of Tampa Bay seeks LGBTQ mentors

By : Ryan Williams-Jent
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Tampa | The Big Brothers Big Sisters of Tampa Bay will hold a Pride Bowling event on June 9 to simultaneously raise funds for youth and awareness that LGBTQ volunteers are welcome in the non-profit’s mentorship program.

The event follows a nationwide initiative focusing on LGBTQ inclusion for Big Brothers Big Sisters of America, which at over 100 years old remains the nation’s largest volunteer-supported mentoring network. The non-profit exists to make meaningful matches between adults and at-risk youth, respectively known as “Bigs” and “Littles.”

The initiative included awareness training at its various chapters, including Tampa, and led Director of Resource Development Margaret Grobisen to work with local volunteers like Derek Lang to form the upcoming and inclusive fundraiser.

“We do something that is part of the Big Brothers Big Sisters of America culture,” Grobisen says, “and that is we have bowling fundraisers. It’s been going on for 25 to 30 years. I had already told [him] what we were doing with this LGBTQ initiative, and Derek said we should have a Pride Bowl. It was a great idea.”

“I feel like being a Big is one of the most important things I can do right now to have a positive impact on a child’s life,” Lang says. “I’m not only part of the LGBTQ community; I’m part of this entire community… I want to make a difference in it any way that I can. The program lets me never lose sight of the fact that individuals can change the world and I can ensure my Little knows that one day he can too.”

Through the Tampa Bay chapter’s volunteers and donors, 2,900 children’s lives were impacted last year in Hillsborough, Pinellas, Polk, Pasco, Citrus, Hernando and Sumter counties. Of the program’s beneficiaries, 56 percent were girls, 44 percent were boys and 89 percent lived below the poverty line. The federal poverty level, which measures a household’s poverty status, ranged from $16,240 to $24,600 for a family of two to four in 2017.

To further raise awareness that members of the LGBTQ community are welcome and needed, Big Brothers Big Sisters of America produced a version of their logo that included a rainbow. “We made pins and they say ‘Be Proud, Be Big,’” Grobisen says.

“I showed our recruiter and he said just that day someone had pulled him aside, whispered to him they were gay and asked if they could be a Big. And it’s like, of course you can! People become Bigs for so many reasons; I don’t think the reasons are any different whether you’re straight or gay. The majority of Bigs I speak to tell you they think they’re getting more out of it than the Little is, and I think the Littles are getting a lot, so it just speaks volumes.”

Grobisen also notes that the organization will “of course” mentor youth who are LGBTQ, so it’s equally as important to have the knowledge, support and resources for them as they come out that stems from inclusion. “It’s the future,” she says, “that’s what this is about.”

Big Brothers Big Sisters of Tampa Bay’s Pride Bowl will be held June 9 at Dunedin Lanes. To purchase tickets to the event, for more information about the program or to donate funds, visit give.bbbstampabay.org/campaigns/6703-pride-bowling-event-2018.

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