Many recognize Tahnee Robinson for playing guard for the University of Nevada and for being the first American Indian to be drafted by the WNBA. However, these accomplishments may not have happened if it wasn’t for her coaches and parents serving as her mentors. Now, Robinson has a chance to serve as a mentor by being the official spokesperson for Big Brothers Big Sisters (BBBS).
“Mentoring is about putting a child on a path to success and giving kids the power to believe that they can achieve their dreams,” Robinson said in a statement released by BBBS. “While I was fortunate enough to count my parents as my true mentors, I will always do whatever it takes to make sure kids have the mentorship and tools they deserve, and the Big Brothers Big Sisters organization does that better than anyone.”
Robinson’s recruitment was based on the efforts of BBBS Director of Native American Mentoring Ivy Wright-Bryan, a member of the Pyramid Lake Paiute Tribe of Nevada, who saw how her own Native community embraced Robinson, originally from Fort Washakie, Wyoming. Robinson, of the Eastern Shoshone, Pawnee, Northern Cheyenne and Sioux Nations, is currently playing basketball in Israel for team Elitzur Holon.
Wright-Bryan said that mentoring is not new to Native communities, with extended family serving in this traditional role. For her, the importance of BBBS Native American Mentoring is that it relies upon an area’s tribal members to serve as the first point of contact between the program and local Native communities.
“Our Native American initiative is nationwide,” Wright-Bryan said. “What distinguishes it is that Big Brothers Big Brothers offers up the organizational piece and the experience of formalized mentoring. All of the programs are tribal-specific, because we employ a person from the tribe. That person serves as a liaison between our local agency and the tribal communities, tribal families and volunteers.”
Since its introduction in 2008, the Native American Tribal Community Initiative has gained support from the Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention as well as resolutions of support from the Affiliated Tribes of Northwest Indians and, most recently, the National Congress of American Indians.
In addition to a tribal-specific approach, BBBS uses its model of research-based positive outcomes with both its mentors and mentee families.
“What also sets us apart is our foundation. Big Brothers Big Sisters is built upon the foundation of educational success, avoidance of high-risk behavior and building confidence—self-confidence and self-reliance,” said Wright-Bryan. “The Native American Initiative also takes into consideration the social issues and health issues of our Native population, specifically substance abuse and suicide prevention. Those are two huge things right now in our communities.”
Director of communications Kelly Williams said that many of the families who are a part of BBBS “face adversity,” she said. For BBBS, this primarily means youth who come from single parent homes, have low incomes, a parent who’s incarcerated, and/or whose parents are currently in a military deployment.
Public service announcements featuring Robinson are already available for viewing on the BBBS website and social media. Beginning in January, the PSA will be broadcast in markets where the BBBS Native American Mentoring service programs are located.