Speake wants community to understand the importance of mentoring

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April Speake became executive director of Big Brothers Big Sisters-Pikes Peak during 2005.

April Speake became executive director of Big Brothers Big Sisters-Pikes Peak during 2005.

As executive director of Big Brothers Big Sisters, April Speake sees firsthand the difference a person can make in a child’s life.

The group’s goal is to help children reach their full potential through one-to-one volunteer relationships. During 2008, Big Brothers Big Sisters in Colorado Springs supported 515 of those relationships.

Speake took time recently to tell CSBJ about herself and her organization.

Organization: Big Brothers Big Sisters of Colorado-Pikes Peak

Position: Executive director

Hometown: Cape Cod, Mass.

How long have you lived in Colorado Springs: For a total of 14 years (non-consecutive)

Education: Bachelor’s degree in psychology from the University of Central Florida

A few words about your company: Big Brothers-Big Sisters of America has been the national leader in youth mentoring since its founding in 1904 in New York City. In Colorado, our history began in 1918 with Claude Blake, chief probation officer in Denver, who watched wartime conditions cause an increase in lawlessness among boys in his community.

Recognizing that these boys needed guidance more than critics, Blake established Big Brothers of Denver. Big Brothers Big Sisters-Pikes Peak was formed during 1967 as a program of Family Counseling Service. Later, the program became affiliated with the Pikes Peak YMCA. During 2001 the organization merged with Big Brothers Big Sisters of Colorado in Denver.

Recent accomplishments: We recently rolled out a branding campaign: “BeBig.” Hopefully you have seen some of our bus benches around town.

We are piloting a new program called “Operation Mentor,” which matches children of deployed military with a big brother or sister, and we just wrapped up a three-year grant in which we matched more than 220 young people who have an incarcerated parent with a big brother or sister.

Biggest career break: Being promoted to executive director of Big Brothers Big Sisters-Pikes Peak during 2005 and having the privilege to indirectly make a positive difference in the lives of thousands of youth from our community.

The toughest part of your job: Having to tell a child or parent that, because of a lack of money, we cannot provide to them the fundamental gift of friendship.

Someone you admire: I admire the children in our program who have experienced hurt, disappointment and perhaps worse — yet still have the ability to desire friendship and to trust others.

I also greatly admire my grandfather, Jose Antonio Torres, who fought in the Spanish Civil War against Franco. Despite great losses and two concentration camp imprisonments, he remained the most gentle and loving man I have ever encountered.

About your family: My husband, Steve, and I have a total of six children, ranging in age from 7 to 23.

Something else you’d like to accomplish: I’d like to change the mindset about youth mentoring so that its value and importance are realized by all. Youth mentoring brings value to our youth, their families and our entire community.

There are many impact studies we can draw upon to back this up. A 2009 study conducted by Harris Interactive found that, compared to their peers, adults who were mentored as children through Big Brothers Big Sisters were 75 percent more likely to have received a four-year college degree.

I’d like to expand services during this time of great need, and I look forward to finding a champion who can help us accomplish this goal. Oh … and I also hope to visit Italy someday soon.

How your business will change in the next decade: As a nonprofit, we must continue to demonstrate the added value our service brings to this community. We must move from the mindset of being a feel-good nonprofit to being a business that provides a valuable service to this community.

What book are you currently reading? Big Brothers Big Sisters leadership staff recently read “How the Mighty Fall” by Jim Collins. Personally, I am reading “True Compass: A Memoir” by Ted Kennedy

What is the one thing you would change about Colorado Springs? I would like to see this beautiful city become more culturally diverse.