Tales from the Field: How the recession is affecting youth services.

Print More


Palm Desert, Calif.—At the beginning of the year, Big Brothers Big Sisters of the Desert saw an influx of volunteer mentors, many said to be inspired by President Obama’s call to service. Over the following months, however, something else happened: The mentors started to disappear like never before.

“We’d get really excited. We’d put them with a child,” says Joanne Leinow, the agency’s partnership development director. “Everything would be fine in week one. By week four or week six or week eight, they’re disappearing on us.”

The most common reason given: economic troubles, such as the need to take on a second or third job, or to move out of the area after a layoff. The hospitality industry, a big part of Palm Desert’s economy, has taken a severe hit in the recession. As a result, Leinow says, the agency recently added a question to its volunteer interviews: “Because of the economy, do you anticipate any changes in your life in the next two, three or four months?”

She notes that several Big Brothers Big Sisters studies have found that if you give a child a mentor who leaves within a few weeks or months, “you end up doing more harm than good.”