PUBLISHED: 4:17 PM on Wednesday, October 17, 2007
Big Brothers Big Sisters connects youth, adults
Marc Wheeler started as executive director of Big Brothers Big Sisters of Juneau, Inc. in November 2001. In 2002 the organization changed its name to BBBS of Southeast Alaska to reflect a recent expansion into Sitka. In August 2007, the named changed again to BBBS of Alaska after a statewide consolidation. Wheeler is currently vice president of programs and operations and now oversees all of the mentoring programs in 30 communities around the state, as well as financial operations. BBBS is a United Way agency.

"I feel very fortunate to work in an organization that makes such a positive difference in the lives of children," Wheeler said. "I had a lot of mentors in my life growing up in Baton Rouge, La. It feels great to be able to help more kids have mentors like the ones I had."

Wheeler has been married to Jessica Paris since 2002, and they have two children, Celia Paris Wheeler, 4, and Ferguson Paris Wheeler, 6 weeks. He has been a Big Brother to Venice in the BBBS school program since November 2006. He also is a member of Juneau Downtown Rotary Club, KTOO Board of Directors, BBBS of America Nationwide Leadership Council and Alaska Native Sisterhood.

Courtesy Photo
  Marc Wheeler, vice president of programs and operations for Big Brothers Big Sisters of Alaska, and his "little brother," Venice.
Here are his answers to questions asked by Capital City Weekly.

What is the purpose of BBBS?

Big Brothers Big Sisters's mission is to help Alaska's children reach their potential through professionally-supported one-to-one mentoring relationships. We believe that every youth has the potential to contribute to society and all they need is to have more caring adults in their lives to help expand their possibilities. If we can help enough children, we think we can change the climate in entire schools, improve the future for whole communities, and ultimately chart a new course for our great state.

How does the organization raise funds and what does fundraising money go toward?

We raise funds through a variety of means, including individual and corporate contributions and Bowl For Kids' Sake. We also receive grant funding. Money raised helps pay for our professionally-staffed mentoring programs. It costs us more than $1,000 per match to provide the professional support and guidance that our mentoring relationships need in order to thrive.

We have been working to improve our sustainability and become less reliant on grant funding. Sustainable funding was a big reason behind our recent consolidation.

What impact does the mentorship program have on youth?

We know from several national studies and from the stories of our Littles that BBBS mentoring can have a profound impact on youth.

A 1995 national study from Public/Private Ventures found that youth matched in our community-based mentoring program for at least a year were less likely to start using drugs and alcohol, less likely to hit someone, and less likely to skip school. A recently released study by PPV shows that our school-based mentoring program helps matched kids improve their academic performance, school behavior, and school attendance. All these impacts are the result of simple friendships. We say "little moments, big magic," because it's through simple shared experiences that strong friendships grow and these benefits magically appear.

Who is applicable for BBBS and how does someone apply?

We know that lots of kids need more adults in their lives, for a variety of reasons. To participate in our program, youth have to both need and want a Big Brother or Big Sister. Our volunteers come from all walks of life. You don't have to be a superhero or Mother Teresa to be a volunteer. You just have to share a little of your time - as little as an hour a week - with a child. We screen all our volunteers for child safety. We also provide training to volunteers to make sure they are as successful as possible.

I'd also like to take the opportunity to call out to men interested in volunteering. Like many other men, I felt in the past that I didn't have enough time to be a Big Brother. Since I've been matched this past year, I've realized just how easy it is to volunteer. If you have time to take a lunch hour, you have time to be a Big Brother. And it's a blast to go back to the playground and have recess once again. It's a great opportunity to make a difference and have fun at the same time. There are a lot of boys that just need a little attention from a guy and I know there are a lot more men out there that would make great Big Brothers.

How have you seen BBBS grow?

Since I've had the pleasure of working at BBBS, we've grown from serving around 100 youth here in Juneau, to serving close to 300 Juneau youth in 2006, and more than 600 youth around Southeast Alaska. We know that a lot more kids can benefit from our services, though. Through our new organization, I believe we'll be able to touch the lives of many more of our region's youth, and really make a difference for the future of Southeast Alaska.

Editor's note: To send suggestionsfor interviewees, send e-mail to Amanda Gragert