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Perfect Match: Big Brothers Big Sisters of the Lowcountry forges lasting bonds between mentors and their littles

Perfect Match: Big Brothers Big Sisters of the Lowcountry forges lasting bonds between mentors and their littles
December 2023

Don’t miss the nonprofit’s Big Lowcountry Boil fundraiser in December

Big Brothers Big Sisters of the Lowcountry hosts the annual Big Lowcountry Boil in December to help raise funds and awareness for the mentor program.

Merridith Crowe works in the relationship business, but it’s not romance she’s promoting. Rather, she’s an expert matchmaker for mentors. As the president and CEO of Big Brothers Big Sisters of the Lowcountry (BBBSL), Crowe and her team of eight create hundreds of compatible pairs each year, tuning into temperaments, hobbies, strengths, backgrounds, and expectations. “There’s a lot to consider, and we get it right nine times out of 10,” says Crowe, who established the Lowcountry chapter as an independent affiliate of the national Big Brothers Big Sisters program in 2019. “Our singular focus is to establish one-to-one mentor relationships that help ignite youth potential.

“I deeply believe in this mission,” she continues, reflecting that, as a girl, she could have used some positive adult connection. “I was an Air Force brat who grew up in an abusive home, the product of intergenerational poverty.” BBBSL draws mentors of all stripes, including young professionals, retirees, and empty nesters. “We want adults who will be their authentic selves, listen well, and consistently show up for at least a year,” says Crowe. 

The program’s youth participants range in age from seven to 18, the vast majority living in low-income households. While pairs split almost evenly between men and women, the list of kids waiting for a mentor is about 80 percent male. Twice a month, Bigs and Littles spend quality time together, working on goals and developing their friendships. “They might run errands, grab an ice cream, visit the beach, or engage in a service project. I’ve seen Bigs teach their Littles to mow lawns and cook,” says Crowe. 

In their three years together, Big Sister Shmeika and Little Sister Deja have gone bowling, learned to roller-skate, and attended plays, “but we have the best time just going out to eat, laughing, and sharing what’s happening in life,” says Shmeika. The mentor has watched Deja mature into a 14-year-old who articulates her feelings, understands the importance of healthy friendships, and respects her schoolwork. “She’s also taught me to be more patient, sensitive, and present in the moment,” reflects Shmeika, who appreciates BBBSL’s ongoing support with free monthly activities and mentoring resources. 

“Of the more than 31,000 tri-county children living in poverty, a good third could benefit from this sort of relationship,” says Crowe. Big Brothers Big Sisters currently fosters 185 active pairs, and the organization expects to reach 335 matches by June 2024. “That means managing 1,005 relationships, since each match involves a parent or caregiver, a  mentor, and a child. It also offers 335 different definitions of success,” adds the CEO. 

(Left) Board members at the annual fundraiser; (Right) Little Sister Deja and her Big Sister Shmeika have been paired for three years.

BBBSL creates a personalized youth development outcome plan for each kid and coaches mentors on how to help with those individual goals. Research shows that within a year of joining the program, mentees report academic improvement, less trouble with law enforcement, and stronger connections to family and peers. Using evidence-based surveys, the team saw that 92 percent of Littles believe they will graduate high school and 97 percent avoid risky behaviors such as substance abuse.

Though statistics certainly document the group’s profound impact, often their achievements are simply immeasurable, like Big Brother Jonathan’s recent experience. After his Little Brother’s father passed away, Jonathan noticed the 10-year-old struggling to open up about his complicated grief, so he reached out to BBBSL for guidance. By learning which questions to ask, the mentor was able to draw out his mentee. When he asked his Little Brother if it seemed fair that crying could feel more acceptable in girls, the boy leaned into him and broke down, bubbling over with all the emotions he’d bottled up. “The Little Brother now knows that this man cares about his emotional well-being. Jonathan created an opening for him to experience emotions positively,” says Crowe. “The strongest protective factor we can offer to children is to let them know there are adults to whom they can turn when life gets messy.”

Big Brothers Big Sisters of the Lowcountry hosts its fifth-annual Big Lowcountry Boil on December 2 at Holy City Brewing. From 11 a.m. to 3 p.m., enjoy a shrimp boil, live music, a silent auction, and family-friendly entertainment. Tickets ($40, $15 kids ages seven to 12, free for ages six and under) can be purchased at