In Kids & Family

"Mentoring has a proven track record of helping kids to improve," says Chionchio. "It's a life-changing experience for the volunteer."

Milwaukee Talks: Amy Chionchio, CEO of Big Brothers Big Sisters

Amy Chionchio has worked in the non-profit sector for half of her life. After successful careers at the Milwaukee Public Museum and United Performing Arts Fund (UPAF), Chionchio joined Big Brothers Big Sisters (BBBS) of Metro Milwaukee in September 2007 as the president and chief executive officer.

Intelligent, down-to-earth and exceptionally passionate about her work, Chionchio strives to help Milwaukee reach its potential on a daily basis.

For this latest installment of "Milwaukee Talks," OnMilwaukee.com spoke with Chionchio about her new role, the mission of Big Brothers Big Sisters and what the group still needs in order to reach its goal for Mentoring Month, which ends on Jan. 31.

OnMilwaukee.com: Why is Big Brothers Big Sisters a good fit for you?

Amy Chionchio: Before accepting the position, I thought about this question for a long time. I have 25 years of experience working in non-profits, and (that's because) I need to work somewhere that I believe in the cause, the mission and the impact. I have been lucky and able to fulfill this need in all of my jobs. I worked in the arts (UPAF) and education (MPM) and there was a great give and take with what we focused on and what the community got back. Moving into the social services with BBBS, it really elevates that whole piece because the kids and families we work with are such a deserving part of the community. Rolling my career into this focus of helping kids reach their potential, wow, I could not ask for better a fit. It is a change, but a natural change, for me to really focus on a part of the community that really needs our help. It gives me the chance to really give back, through a truly awesome organization. I cannot say enough about BBBS, but I know we couldn't do it without the volunteers.

OMC: You touch upon this in the last question, but please elaborate on why the non-profit world is a good match for you?

AC: I am a person who absolutely has to believe in what I'm doing and believe in the organization I work for. There's too much of our lives committed to that four-letter word "work," and there has to be a connection that goes beyond showing up and collecting a paycheck. It is very easy for me to believe in BBBS, and it was easy to believe in the museum as well as the arts. But, I have to say that I feel there is no better cause that the one I'm focusing on today.

OMC: How many kids does BBBS reach out to in Milwaukee?

AC: We serve 2,300 children and their families, which means we have 2,300 volunteers in Milwaukee and Waukesha.

OMC: January is National Mentoring Month and BBBS's goal was to recruit 100 volunteers. Have you reached that goal?

AC: We are almost halfway there.

OMC: What makes a good mentor?

AC: Someone who can make the commitment to develop a relationship with a child that is positive and supportive. It may sound vague, but purposely so because it depends on the child.

OMC: What is BBBS's role in the mentor / kid relationship?

AC: We facilitate the match and then we support the match. For example, when we match a child struggling academically, we need a mentor who can help the kid with his or her homework. If we have a child who is very shy, we need a mentor who is suited to help them find their own voice. Those are two different things and require two different mentors.

We try to make sure that every mentor is specifically matched with the right kid. And sometimes all it means is letting them be a kid, showing up regularly to see them, keeping an eye on them. In some cases, that's it. But it's usually more than that. It's about providing experiences. We have children who live in Milwaukee who have never seen Lake Michigan because they might not have a car.

OMC: What kind of a commitment is asked of mentors?

AC: We ask for a year. Statistically, we see the results in the relationships after a year. Of course, we have matches that go on for years and years and years. On a weekly basis, it's hard to say how many hours a mentor should spend with the child. If forced, I would say about an hour a week, but it's usually more than that because it's hard to do anything in an hour. More than anything, we ask for a consistent engagement.

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