Twenty-eight years after he first became a mentor with Big Brothers Big Sisters of Greater Pittsburgh, Dan Jenkins has been honored with a $25,000 grant for the organization from Northwestern Mutual, where he is a wealth management advisor. The grant is part of Northwestern Mutual’s 2021 Community Service Awards. The Northwestern Mutual Foundation awards nearly $300,000 in grants each year to nonprofits across the country. Jenkins, Elm Spring Road, is one of only four to receive a grant at the $25,000 level.
Big Brothers Big Sisters is dedicated to connecting local youth with an adult mentor in one-to-one relationships. Such relationships have been shown to help children and teens develop foundational skills, structures, mental mindsets, values and beliefs that help them do better in school, avoid risky behavior and strengthen their relationships with teachers and family members. Jenkins got involved in 1993, when he was in his mid-20s. He mentored a boy from the Hill District named James.
“I had just gotten started in the finance business and was talking a lot about money, I guess,” Jenkins said. “A friend suggested that I do something charitable, rather than just focus on money, and led me to Big Brothers Big Sisters.”
Commitment to being a Big Brother or Sister means spending at least two hours every other week, working one-on-one with a young person. “I realized that my life had been helped immeasurably by positive relationships and a lot of these kids didn’t have that. Many of the boys didn’t have dads or positive male role models in their lives.” Jenkins and James started doing fun things together, like attending Pirates games. Although James is an adult now and works as a welder, they are still in touch.
“I just hoped to help a kid and be friends. Instead I got 100 times more out of it than he did.”
Jenkins moved on from mentorship to other positions with BBBS. He has served on various committees, led fundraising and currently sits on the organization’s board, where he has also served as president. He is the group’s biggest fundraiser, arranging the annual golf outing at Laurel Valley Country Club, which brings in $80,000 each year.
Along the way he and his wife, Amy, became the parents of five children. Jenkins credits his wife with freeing up time for him to work with BBBS, despite having her hands full. Two of their children have graduated from high school and gone off to Ohio State and the University of Pennsylvania, where they joined Big Brothers Big Sisters in their respective cities, making their dad proud.
Big Brothers Big Sisters of Greater Pittsburgh will use the money for enrolling more young people into its mentoring programs from an ever-increasing wait list. The organization currently serves 1,500 youth per year, and the demand is expected to grow after the pandemic. The annual budget of $2.2 million supports 27 staff members, who must recruit and train the mentors, as well as arrange events that support the adult-child matches.
When asked what he would say to someone thinking of becoming a Big Brother or Big Sister, Jenkins said, “It’s a great experience. You’re potentially changing an individual’s life for the better. It’s one child at a time.” The influence can last for generations, he suggested, because leadership and simply having someone to talk to can help immensely.
“My favorite event of the year is the dinner where the kids come back. That’s when you can see the outcome,” he said. “At the end of the day, if they become productive members of society and if the mentoring relationship was a part of that, that’s a big accomplishment.”