Big Brothers Big Sisters of Central Texas and Boys & Girls Clubs of the Austin Area always have been confused for each other, their chief operating officers say.


They have similar missions to help empower youth in our community, but do it in different ways: one through one-on-one mentorships and one through afterschool clubs. And they both begin with the letter “B.”


Now they are embracing their similarities through a collaboration called the “Out-of-School Time” Program and Activities for At-Risk Youth in Travis and Bastrop Counties.


That fancy name means that when a family seeks a mentor or “big” at Big Brothers Big Sisters, that organization also will suggest the kids attend a club at Boys & Girls Clubs. It also means that kids who are attending one of the Boys & Girls Clubs will be encouraged to apply for a mentor through Big Brothers Big Sisters.


“We want to make sure kids have access to opportunities,” Boys & Girls Clubs of the Austin Area CEO Misti Potter said. It will allow both groups “to reach more youths in different ways,” she says.


The reaction to this collaboration has been “it's a partnership that makes sense, and why haven't we done it sooner?” Big Brothers Big Sisters of Central Texas CEO Brent Fields said. “The answer is we're just getting around to it.”


It started with Potter and Fields going to lunch and then inviting other members of senior leadership to join them in the conversation.


It also goes beyond educating families about what the other organization can provide. It could be fertile ground for Boys & Girls Clubs’ volunteers to become bigs and for Big Brothers Big Sisters’ bigs to volunteer at Boys & Girls Clubs.


Each volunteer program has a different set of requirements, from the occasional interaction at a Boys & Girls Clubs site teaching a skill, to a couple of hours three times a month to be a mentor at Big Brothers Big Sisters.


Each organization can help when there’s a shortfall of volunteers or recipients. Recently Big Brothers Big Sisters had cleared its waiting list for big sisters and needed to recruit girls to the program. At the same time, it had a shortage of men of color volunteering to be Big Brothers. Reaching out to its partner Boys & Girls Clubs of the Austin Area might help fulfill those needs.


The two organizations also intend to apply for joint grants that could benefit families served by one or the other organization or both.


It is not unique for these two organizations to work together in other cities, Potter said. Some of that is happening in San Antonio as well. Going after joint grants is a unique idea.


“Hopefully and ideally, it’s a good example for the community, in general,” Potter said. “It is bringing resources together to do what we're doing, better.”