Jessica Parsons (left) and Little Sister Aliyah Velasquez, 13, walk along Mukilteo Beach during one of their Big Sister Little Sister hangouts Dec. 2 in Mukilteo. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)

Jessica Parsons (left) and Little Sister Aliyah Velasquez, 13, walk along Mukilteo Beach during one of their Big Sister Little Sister hangouts Dec. 2 in Mukilteo. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)

Children, adults learn from one another in mentor program

About 75 children are waiting for a match through Big Brothers Big Sisters of Snohomish County.

EVERETT — For 13-year-old Aliyah Velasquez, Big Brothers Big Sisters of Snohomish County has been a way to try new experiences she may not have had otherwise.

She has eaten sushi, hiked to a waterfall and played bocce ball. She was nervous about trying sushi at first, but liked it.

“I also tried the wasabi green stuff all by itself,” she said. “It was OK.”

Velasquez has been teaching her mentor, 39-year-old Jessica Parsons, as well. On their way out to the hike she played the song “Watermelon Sugar” by Harry Styles.

“Aliyah is teaching me all about music I don’t know,” Parsons said. “‘Watermelon Sugar’ I swear came on five times just in the car ride.”

Parsons and Aliyah matched through Big Brothers Big Sisters of Snohomish County about four months ago. They’ve met up during the pandemic while taking precautions, but also have talked through online video calls. Velasquez lives in south Everett and Parsons in Edmonds.

Velasquez appreciates having another adult in her life.

“It’s really fun to have someone to talk to about things that you never really had someone to actually trust and tell about your feelings,” she said. “It’s also fun to go to different places and try new things.”

Big Brothers Big Sisters of Snohomish County needs more mentors. Right now, about 75 young people are waiting for an adult match. More than half of those are young men.

“We always have more Little Brothers than we have Big Brothers, so we always need Big Brothers,” case manager Kasey Oswalt said. “We have a lot of Little Brothers popping up in the Lake Stevens area, so that’s been a need definitely recently.”

At the same time, more adults are enrolled for the program in south county, near Lynnwood. Organizers would like to see more children from that area sign up.

Program leaders encourage more adults who are people of color or part of the LGBTQIA+ community to become mentors.

Jessica Parsons and Aliyah Velasquez look at shells and rocks along Mukilteo Beach on Dec. 2. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)

Jessica Parsons and Aliyah Velasquez look at shells and rocks along Mukilteo Beach on Dec. 2. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)

Volunteers can still apply during the pandemic. Initial conversations are just completed virtually. Adults go through an application process, receive an extensive background check and are interviewed, Executive Director Pamela Diehm said.

Youth can also sign up at this time. Children are interviewed as well to find an adult who has similar interests. Once a match is made, the pair meet two to four times a month.

Applications for both adults and children are online at bbbs-snoco.org. Mentors must be at least 18 or older to volunteer in schools, or 21 and older for the general program.

Enrollment in the program by both adults and children is down by about 50% of what it was before the pandemic, case manager and enrollment specialist Alyne Van Winkle said.

Revenue is down this year, too, partly because in-person fundraisers have been canceled or rescheduled. By the end of the year, Diehm expects the organization’s income to be about a quarter less than usual.

Jessica Parsons (left) and Aliyah Velasquez were paired in July during the pandemic and have met, socially distanced, to spend time together. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)

Jessica Parsons (left) and Aliyah Velasquez were paired in July during the pandemic and have met, socially distanced, to spend time together. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)

Last November, Big Brothers Big Sisters of Snohomish County moved into its first permanent space in years. Its office is in the new Everett YMCA, at 4730 Colby Ave.

In January, Parsons signed up to become a mentor. It’s been more rewarding than she ever imagined, she said.

Parsons is there to answer whatever questions Velasquez may have.

“I think that it got me a great friendship to trust and connect,” Velasquez said.

Stephanie Davey: 425-339-3192; sdavey@heraldnet.com; Twitter: @stephrdavey.

How to help

Big Brothers Big Sisters of Snohomish County encourages adults and children to enroll in the program even during the pandemic. Initial meetings are held online. About 75 children are waiting for a mentor, and more than half of those are boys.

Donations can also be made online. Learn more at bbbs-snoco.org.

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