Mathis said that kind of support has been critical to the group's success. Research conducted by the Philadelphia-based Public/Private Ventures in 1994 and 1995 found that children mentored by Big Brothers Big Sisters for 18 months were 46% less likely to begin using drugs than their peers, 27% less likely to begin using alcohol, 52% less likely to skip school and 33% less likely to hit someone.
Still, Mathis said, Big Brothers Big Sisters is known as a place to donate time rather than money. The new campaign aims to change that.
"This is literally the first time that we have put a 'donate' button on the front of our website," Mathis said.
When Egender was introduced to Bill, the boy was a sullen 8-year-old who struggled to read and kept getting into trouble for fighting. His father, who is schizophrenic, was in and out of prison, and his grandmother felt he needed a better role model. Bill hated the idea.
"I didn't understand why he was here," Bill said, as the two waited for a table at the packed diner one recent Saturday afternoon. "Every time we would take a picture, I would make a mean face."
He is now happy to share details from their fishing trip to Lake Tahoe and a surprise trip to San Jose to see his favorite rapper, Dr. Dre, in concert. With Egender's encouragement, Bill has worked his way from a special-needs school to a charter school and dreams of going to a university.
Bill's grandmother, Debra Loyd, tears up when she recalls how Egender would bring the boy to visit her in the hospital when she was being treated for cancer. "He's just part of the family," she said.
Egender says he can always count on Bill to make him smile. "I got pretty lucky with this guy," he said.
Bill compares the relationship to the characters in the Dr. Seuss book "Green Eggs and Ham."
"He opens my mind up to new ideas," Bill said. "He's the best brother I could have."