Three Northeast St. Pete residents are helping the next generation of young people learn the skills they need to succeed in life. Kim Harvey, an interior designer; Krista Petkov, an information technology specialist at Jabil; and Bryan Stanley, a technology sales professional are volunteers with Big Brothers Big Sisters of Tampa Bay, a nonprofit organization that matches vulnerable, at-risk youth with adult mentors.
A resident of Shore Acres, Kim moved to St. Petersburg eight years ago, and has a wide range of passions, from running her own interior design business (Kim Harvery Design) to horseback riding, and making bags out of repurposed sails. She also enjoys being a mentor to her BBBS little sister Delaney. The two have been paired since Delaney was in middle school and have definitely bonded with time. “My mentorship with Delaney has evolved into a true friendship over the years and has enriched our lives beyond words,” says Kim.
The two have even enjoyed a few adventures together. Kim recounted the time she raised funds so Delaney could rappel down a 19-story high-rise in downtown St. Pete – part of an annual BBBS of Tampa Bay fundraiser called Over the Edge. “Delaney is open to anything. She might be more adventurous than I am,” says Kim of the experience.
Over the years, several office buildings in downtown St. Pete and Tampa have been scaled for this event. No rappelling or climbing experience is required. Participants receive technical expertise, training, and equipment from experienced professionals.
Kim and Delaney are also among the first ‘Big’ and ‘Little’ to participate in a new BBBS program called Big Futures. Until now, BBBS only served children ages 5 to 18, or when the young person graduated from high school. Big Futures extends the opportunity to be mentored a little longer, up to age 26. The goal is to help the young person receive the support and guidance to make good educational and career choices.
“In our traditional program, once a participant turns 18, they are on their own to maintain their relationship with their Big Brother or Big Sister,” says Dallas Ruffin, the Big Futures program coordinator for BBBS of Tampa Bay.
“Big Futures allows the relationship to continue at a time when these young adults are faced with major life decisions. Many need help navigating the college application process, job interviews, and job training,” says Dallas.
BBBS rolled out Big Futures last year, and Dallas is now working with the local business community to recruit additional mentors. Since the program was piloted nationally, Dallas says that more than 60 percent of the young people involved have gone on to attend college.
Delaney is a local Big Futures success story. Kim is proud to have played a role in helping her ‘little sister’ achieve this important goal. She says she knew Delaney was bright, and always encouraged her to apply herself in the classroom. “When she was a sophomore, I challenged her to get straight A’s for her final two years of high school,” says Kim. “I knew she could do it. As an incentive, I offered her a trip out-of-state because when we first met, she’d never been on a plane or even left the state.”
Delaney got perfect grades and earned the trip, but it had to be postponed when she received exciting news – she had been accepted for summer enrollment at Florida International University in Miami. But it almost didn’t happen! A simple mistake on Delaney’s paperwork put her enrollment in jeopardy until Dallas and Kim jumped in to help. That’s the kind of support that BBBS mentors – especially Big Future mentors – can offer. “Delaney was 18, away from home for the first time, and really needed help navigating a huge university. It felt good to be able to help,” said Dallas. As for the trip, Kim and Delaney flew to Asheville, NC over winter break and had a great time together. It was Delaney’s first time experiencing snow.
Krista Petkov, a resident of the Old Northeast, is involved in yet another BBBS program – a School-to-Work Program that provides one-on-one mentoring in the workplace for high school juniors and seniors. The program makes the corporate world less intimidating, and teaches the importance of networking and being professional. The goal is to improve graduation rates among the BBBS young people who are being mentored.
Still in her 20s, Krista says she is able to offer her ‘little sister’ DeMaye guidance in a variety of areas, from help navigating the college application process to tips on job hunting. “I really like the commitment that everyone makes to the program; students and mentors take it very seriously,” says Krista. “Big Brothers Big Sisters was also very thorough in matching us with kids we can relate to. My little sister has a job and works so hard. And our personalities are similar.”
Krista works at Jabil, one of a dozen local companies – including HSN, Tech Data, Johns Hopkins All Children’s Hospital, and the Tampa Bay Rays – who have stepped up to participate. Krista says it has been rewarding. “In college, I did some tutoring for at-risk kids and it was a really great experience. I thought this was a good way to help,” she says.
According to Dallas, proof of the program’s success is evident, as several students have secured employment at the businesses they visited as ‘littles.’
Bryan Stanley says he had always thought about volunteering, but never got around to it because he travels so much for work. So when learned about Big Brothers Big Sisters at a work-related charity event, he was intrigued especially when he heard the organization was eager for men to mentor young boys. It wasn’t long before he was paired with eight-year-old E.J. Now the two spend about two-to-three hours a week together talking, playing minigolf, throwing a football, and visiting the Air Heads trampoline center.
Bryan was impressed with how quickly E.J. opened up to him. “He’s just a great kid. He reminds me of myself,” says Bryan. “We’re both into sports. We were both bullied in school. I was the first college graduate in my family, and I think I can help him accomplish his goals. I put off volunteering for years, and I’m so glad I finally got involved.”
Every success story is the result of ordinary people taking a little time to give back. As a Big Brother, Bryan emphasizes, “If anyone is on the fence, don’t let time be the only reason you don’t get involved. It’s really easy to find a couple hours to spend with a kid. We waste that much time looking at our phones.”
In 2018, BBBS of Tampa Bay served 3,013 young people in seven counties. For the first time in its 54-year history, the organization was named a national Pinnacle Award winner for increasing its revenue and growing the number of ‘Big & Little’ matches. For more information, visit BBBSTampaBay.org.