ConnectOC Blog

Moving the Needle for At-Risk Youth in Anaheim

Posted by: Shelley Hoss on 3/9/2015

By Shelley Hoss

The ConnectOC Blog is a place for sharing insight, information and examples of how Orange County residents, donors and nonprofits are working to build a brighter, stronger, more vibrant community.  We welcome you to share your thoughts by commenting below.

We live in a community of contrasts. While the wealth and success of so many Orange County residents is visible everywhere, the deep needs of others are not. And nowhere is this need more compelling than in Orange County’s urban core, with west Anaheim at its center. 

The 2012 Anaheim Youth Services Assessment (AYSA) confirmed that Anaheim youth are at significant risk for poverty, gang involvement and school dropout, and that teens 13 to 18 are the most vulnerable, yet are often the least-served by local programming.

In response to these findings, Disneyland Resort, Angels Baseball, and the Anaheim Ducks collectively pledged $3 million on behalf of Anaheim youth over three years. They asked the Orange County Community Foundation (OCCF) to serve as managing partner of Accelerate Change Together (ACT) Anaheim, and OCCF helped increase the inaugural granting pool from $1 million to $1.5 million, awarded to ten local nonprofits last April. 

ACT adopted a two-pronged strategy to benefit Anaheim’s youth: support and strengthen Anaheim nonprofits to better serve at-risk youth, and draw outstanding programs from throughout the county to bring their most-effective programs to Anaheim. 

With its powerful mentoring model, Big Brothers Big Sisters of Orange County (BBBS) is a prime example of ACT’s success in bringing best-in-class solutions to Anaheim. 

Independent research shows that 67 percent of former BBBS youth participants were influenced by their mentor to attend college. These mentees, called “Littles,” also make better decisions outside of the classroom. Almost half of the Littles said they were less likely to begin using illegal drugs and one-third said they were less likely to hit someone. 

With ACT funding, BBBS now operates the High School Bigs program throughout the Anaheim Union High School District. Qualified, volunteer high school students — the “Bigs” — mentor vulnerable elementary and middle school Littles. 

“It’s one of the programs we are most proud of,” said Melissa Beck, president of BBBS. “Mentors are looking for an opportunity to give back to their community. They can show a child that success is possible because Bigs came from the same situations that Littles do. They learn that if they believe in themselves and work hard, there is light at the end of the tunnel.”

But it’s not the only way Littles can imagine a future beyond their neighborhoods. 

Paired with Corporate Bigs, Littles experience “corporate work life” through BBBS’ Beyond School Walls program and discover the importance of continued education. Their Bigs tell them — perhaps for the first time in their lives — that the Orange County dream is attainable for them, too. 

“Study after study shows that one-to-one mentoring is one of the most cost-efficient and successful ways to change their lives for the better, forever”, says Beck. “Seventy percent of the youth in our programs are the first in their families to complete high school, and Littles who stay with our program for one year are 75 percent more likely to earn a bachelor’s degree. Now that’s moving the needle.”

To learn more and find out how you can help, visit


Shelley Hoss is president of the Orange County Community Foundation. She can be reached at

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