Serving Diversity at Big Brothers Big Sisters of
The staff of Big Brother Big Sisters: Bottom row: Dora Zuñiga (l-r), Mario
Gayoso Noguerol, next Amanda Knudtson Captain; Wyolanda
Singleton Second row: Casey Kimmel, Carol Christopher, Sheena
Jacobi, Kate Pierce Top row: Christina Beach-Baumgartner, Jerome
Flowers, Joleen Koopmann
that means that there are a lot of children of color who fit that category. Forty-five percent children are African American. About 20
percent are Hispanic. We serve about three percent Asian American children and one percent Native American. About 20 percent of
the kids we serve today are multiracial children. So we do serve a diverse group of children.”
Over the years, Zuñiga has worked hard to create diversity at Big Brothers. And it appears that their efforts are bearing fruit. Currently,
17 percent of their volunteers are volunteers of color. And out of 11 staff, four are persons of color with three of them bilingual in
English and Spanish. Diversity is important.
“When kids of color walk around every day, they have a sense of isolation,” Zuñiga said. “They don’t see a teacher. They don’t see a
principal. They don’t see a doctor. They don’t see anyone who is like them who is successful. We are all isolated by economics.
Consequently the kids we serve are surrounded by poverty. When we look at our staff, when we look at our volunteers, when we look
at our board, we want to give kids hope. The staff member who come to their house to interview them might be the first person of
color whom they have ever met who is successful, who works in an office, who graduated from college. That is critical and important.
Every single one of my staff members is a role model. We believe that it is critical and important that kids have this access to folks
who are successful so that they know it is possible for them to be successful in a traditional manner of completing their high school
education and going on to higher education.”
One of the programs that Big Brothers sponsors is the School Friends program that allows a Big and a Little to form a relationship in
the school environment, giving the Little at least one adult mentor that they see in school on a regular basis.
“What makes the difference for the children is there is a total stranger — because it usually is a stranger — who hangs out with them
and tells them they are special and tells them they are special every week and loves them,” Zuñiga emphasized. “Kids see, ‘Wow,
this person must really like me because they come every week.’ It has a significant impact on these young people. We ask for a two-
year commitment for Bigs, whether it is in School Friends or at the regular community-based program. But we really want you to
mentor kids for as long as they need you. As parents, we all know that kids don’t need us for a day or two. They need us for a long
time. So we are really looking for people in the community with roots who want to make a difference in one child’s life, want to be a
part of changing academic achievement, the racial achievement gap that exists and the disparity of poverty in the community.”
Big Brothers have been pretty successful in forging those long-term relationships. While the national average length for a Big-Little
match is about 21 months, locally it is 37 months. For example, Derrick Smith, a Kappa brother, will be seeing his Little graduate from
college this year, a relationship started many years ago.
The sustainability of those relationships is dependent upon the sustainability of Big Brother’s funding base, 80 percent of which it must
raise through special events like Bowl for Kids Sake (See details in the Happenings section) and solicitation of corporate and
“We invite people to partner with us to become a part of our sustaining circle of individuals who make sure that the kids in Dane
County are safe,” Zuñaga said. “You can sign up on our website at www.bbbs.org/danecounty. And if you can sign up to give $100 in
a year, we are grateful. If you can sign up to give $1,000, we’re grateful. Every little or big donation is appreciated.”
It is appreciated by the 750 Littles Big Brothers serves every year.
By Jonathan Gramling
During the Kappa Alpha Psi’s North Central Province Council
Meeting, Dora Zuñiga, executive director of Big Brothers Big
Sisters of Dane County, staffed a modest booth featuring
African American men as Big Brothers — or Bigs as they are
referred to — in the hallway of the Madison Concourse Hotel.
Over the course of two days, Zuñiga addressed the body
twice and ended up recruiting 75 Kappa brothers to serve as
Bigs in their respective cities.
Ever since she came to Big Brothers Big Sisters of Dane
County, Zuñiga has attended countless forums and sponsored
gatherings to increase the diversity of Big Brothers from top to
bottom. The need to be diverse springs from the make-up of
the children whom they serve.
“Many moons ago, Mercile Lee was on our board of
directors,” Zuñiga recalled. “And Mercile was instrumental in
helping the board define how we would serve kids and which
sector we would serve. The definition was based on being
from single-parent households and living in poverty. Poverty
is defined as being on free and reduced lunch. Unfortunately,