Big Brothers Big Sisters of Middle Tennessee is launching MentorHub, which leaders hope will allow “bigs” and “littles” to more easily have conversations that can be tough

Big Brothers Big Sisters volunteer Zach Broberg, left, and his “little,” Devonte, 12, in matching T-shirts identifying themselves as “his little” and “his big.” (Photo: Submitted)

A Nashville nonprofit for youth is launching a national pilot program for a new app designed to let youth more honestly tell mentors how they’re doing.

Big Brothers Big Sisters of Middle Tennessee will line up about 30 adult mentors and youths to start using the app, MentorHub, which was designed by the University of Massachusetts’ Center for Evidence-Based Mentoring in Boston, according to Big Brothers Big Sisters executives. 

Organizers are hopeful that young people — most of whom grew up using tech — will feel more comfortable sharing on the app about their problems than they might while face-to-face with mentors.

“It’s a way to register how you’re doing without being put on the spot about going deeper than you want to,” said Rebecca Ackerman, vice president for program innovation and impact for Big Brothers Big Sisters of Middle Tennessee.

“It gives the big and the little a starting point and a common language to have conversations that are difficult to have.”

Big Brothers Big Sisters so far has signed up about six of their more than 500 pairs of matched mentors and mentees to participate in the pilot, Ackerman said.

MentorHub app users will be asked to check in once a week on several areas of their lives, including school, health, friends, family and worry, developers said on the app’s website. The youth uses a slide bar to indicate how much concern he or she has in each area.

At the end, MentorHub generates suggestions for the youth for programs in other apps that might help with problems. Those other apps — available for free to users — include mindfulness app Headspace and SuperBetter, which helps build resilience and navigating tough times.

Results are available to both the young person’s mentor and to the agency staff member assigned to the pair.

Pilot organizers said they also hope the app — which has a chat function to let mentor and mentee directly communicate — can keep pairs better connected during the pandemic. 

Among those curious about results of the pilot program is University of Memphis social work Professor Greg Washington, 62, a former Big Brother who regularly works with youth in Nashville.

“It is exciting,” said Washington, who has developed a similar app in Memphis.

“The youth culture is about mobile applications. That’s their wheelhouse.”

Nashville Big Brother Zach Broberg, 28, who’s signed up for the pilot program, also is excited about using MentorHub.

Broberg said he hopes it’ll help start more authentic conversations with his mentee.

“A 12-year-old boy in middle school probably wants to be tough,” he said.

“But he may be able to put in the app, ‘I’m feeling sad today.’ If an app lets him say that easier, it could be super super impactful.”

Mia Luschini, 26, who mentors a 16-year-old, also has signed up for the MentorHub pilot.

“I think that, putting myself in her shoes, it’s easier to say things behind a screen or type things out versus saying them face to face,” Luschini said.

“Younger generations are growing up behind screens. If there’s any chance it could help, I’ll at least give it a shot.”

Reach Brad Schmitt at [email protected] or 615-259-8384 or on Twitter @bradschmitt.

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