Big Brothers Big Sisters of San Diego County’s Operation Bigs is a one-to-one mentoring program for military children, the first of its kind in the nation. Mentoring provides an extra layer of support to local military families. The military lifestyle often presents many challenges for children and families such as frequent relocation, school transitions, separation from extended family, increased responsibility coupled with a sense of loss when a parent deploys and the physical and psychological stress faced when a parent returns from war. The program joins children with parents in the military to volunteer “Bigs” who are in the military, retired or civilian.
San Diego County is home to the largest concentration of military activity in the world with 137,000 active duty military personnel, 230,000 veteran residents and the largest discharged Operation Iraqi Freedom and Operation Enduring Freedom (OIF/OEF) veteran population in this Nation with about 38,000 recent war veterans (9% of discharged recent warriors).
Additionally, the San Diego Bay is the principal home of the U.S. Pacific Fleet, and all SEALs get their initial training at the Navy SEAL command in Coronado. About one-quarter of the Marine Corps is stationed in San Diego County, with an infantry division at Camp Pendleton, an air wing at Miramar Marine Corps Air Station and one of the Corps’ two boot camps off Pacific Highway.
In an effort to serve this population more effectively, Big Brothers Big Sisters of San Diego County designed the Operation Bigs program, which provides mentors to children of military families through BOTH Big Brothers Big Sisters’ Site-Based program and Community-Based program. Since the launch in 2004, it has served more than 1,800 Navy and Marine Corps children at 8 sites throughout San Diego County and inspired the expansion of over 30 sites across the country. The need for caring, committed mentors to support the children of those who defend our country remains urgent.
In the Site-Based program, Bigs and Littles typically meet once a week to read together, play sports or computer games, or simply talk about life and personal issues – just as friends do. Operation Bigs Site-Based program runs at four elementary schools on Camp Pendleton and at sites in Coronado, Point Loma, and Tierrasanta.
North County/Camp Pendleton Operation Bigs program sites:
- Mary Fay Pendleton Elementary
- Santa Margarita Elementary
- Stuart Mesa Elementary
- North Terrace Elementary
San Diego Operation Bigs program sites:
- Silver Strand Elementary, in Coronado
- Gateway Youth Recreation Center, in Point Loma
- Miller Elementary School, Tierrasanta
- Hancock Elementary School, Tierrasanta
Real Families. Real Impacts.
Thanks to the Jack in the Box Foundation, Phil’s BBQ, Sycuan Casino, the Arrington Family and so many other community supporters, the Operation Bigs program has taken off and continues to grow. But in order to serve our community’s large number of military children, additional support is still needed. If you want to support our military through a donation to the Operation Bigs program, please contact Erin Zlotnik, Director of Resource Development, at ErinZ@SDBigs.org or (858) 536-4900 x298. To learn more about volunteering as an Operation Bigs mentor, email OpBigs@SDBigs.org or call Megan Hartwell at 858-746-9173.