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Encyclopedia of Cleveland History

BIG BROTHER/BIG SISTER MOVEMENT

BIG BROTHER/BIG SISTER MOVEMENT

The BIG BROTHER/BIG SISTER MOVEMENT began in Cleveland in 1919 with the formation of the Jewish Big Brother and Jewish Big Sister associations, out of concern for the moral character of urban adolescents. Affiliated with the national Big Brothers/Big Sisters of America (founded 1903), these organizations provide "one-to-one friendships," matching adults with children from single-parent households. Big Brothers first organized in Cincinnati in 1903, Big Sisters in New York City in 1908. The local Jewish Big Brother program was established by the Welfare Committee of the Euclid Ave. Temple Alumni Assn. Formerly volunteer-run, the program joined the Jewish Social Services Bureau (JSSB) in 1925, involving professional caseworkers. BERTHA BEITMAN (Mrs. Siegmund) HERZOG, president of the local section of the NATIONAL COUNCIL OF JEWISH WOMEN, organized the Jewish Big Sister Assn. under council auspices to serve girls with behavioral problems. This group joined the JSSB in 1926 and hired a full-time, paid supervisor; in 1932 it helped 88 girls. Both the Jewish Big Brothers and Big Sisters left the JSSB and joined the JEWISH CHILDREN'S BUREAU in 1948.

As early as 1922 the ST. VINCENT DEPAUL SOCIETY offered Catholic Big Brother services at the CUYAHOGA COUNTY JUVENILE COURT and later hired a social worker to train Big Sisters. In Mar. 1924 these volunteers organized as the Catholic Big Sisters, and became an independent agency in 1931. It established a board of directors, joined both CATHOLIC CHARITIES and the Welfare Fed., and assumed the St. Vincent dePaul Big Sister work. From Mar. 1930-Mar. 1931, 75 active Catholic Big Sisters helped 615 girls ages 14-21. Of the groups that formed the Big Brother & Big Sister Conference of Cleveland in Mar. 1927, 3 worked with girls (the Jewish and Catholic Big Sisters and the Big Sister Council, later part of the Women's Protective Assn.) and 2 with boys (the Jewish and Catholic Big Brothers). The conference acted as a clearinghouse, publicized the work, and attempted to develop and promote child-welfare legislation. In Apr. 1929 the conference joined the Welfare Fed.

Only the Jewish Big Brothers worked continuously between the 1920s and the next important phase of the movement, the 1950s, when both Catholic and Protestant Big Brother groups formed to combat male juvenile delinquency. (The sectarian nature was characteristic of the national movement.) Fr. Raymond J. Gallagher organized a new Catholic group in the fall of 1949 which had 60 Catholic Big Brothers by 1960; between 1951-76 Catholic Big Brothers helped 2,050 boys. The Protestant Big Brothers formed in Cleveland 1 Dec. 1956 to serve Protestant and unchurched boys ages 8-18. The group was founded by the Social Welfare Dept. of the Cleveland Area Church Fed.; by 1960 there were 64 Protestant Big Brothers. Renamed the Big Brothers of Greater Cleveland by 1970, it claimed to be "the fastest growing" Big Brother group in the U.S., increasing assignments from 191 in May to 290 in Sept. 1970. The 3 local Big Brother groups worked closely during the 1950s and 1960s, promoting their work during annual Big Brother Week in January and forming the Joint Big Brother Council of Greater Cleveland in 1967.

In 1977 the national Big Brothers of America and Big Sisters Intl. merged to form Big Brothers/Big Sisters of America; accordingly, the local groups changed their names and expanded. The Catholic Big Brothers began offering their services to girls and became the Catholic Big Brothers & Big Sisters, and the new Big Brothers/Big Sisters of Greater Cleveland received 3 foundation grants to begin a program for girls ages 5-17. The Jewish Big Brothers continued to focus on boys but also worked at BELLEFAIRE, which had an active Big Sister committee. By Aug. 1980 454 men and 111 women volunteered as Big Brothers/Big Sisters. In 1982 the organization matched 539 children and its budget of $240,000 was triple its 1970 budget. With the ensuing recession, however, only 395 matches were possible in 1983.

Similar local programs also operated in the 1970s, such as Project Friendship (a UNITED WAY SERVICES program for girls referred by juvenile court) and the Big Buddy/Little Buddy program. Established in 1972 by veteran Big Brother Oscar Steiner, under the auspices of Big Brothers, the Big Buddy program matches fatherless inner-city youngsters ages 5-10 with students age 16 and older who are respectable role models. This "truancy prevention program" grew from 20 participants in 1972 to 500 in 1984; it is sponsored by the Child Conservation Council of Greater Cleveland, assisted by the CLEVELAND PUBLIC SCHOOLS Student Activities Office. By 1995 the Youth Vision program (est. 1992 with United Way Services) helped to operate the 3 main Big Brothers/Big Sisters projects, serving an estimated 1,000 children through mentoring annually; Patricia A. Foote was executive director. Big Brothers/Big Sisters was located at 1501 Euclid Ave. in 1995. In 1994 the Jewish Big Brother/Big Sister Assn. celebrated its 75th anniversary. Sharon Eichenbaum was director, and Neil T. Young was president of the board. With an active membership of 250, it served an estimated 160 children.