We are here to start something

Starting something since 1904At Big Brothers Big Sisters, we’ve been impacting the lives of children for over 100 years. And we’re just getting started.

100 Years of History

For over a century, Big Brothers Big Sisters has been helping change kids’ perspectives and giving them the opportunity to reach their potential. And we have over a century of volunteers, donors, and advocates just like you to thank.

It all started in 1904, when a young New York City court clerk named Ernest Coulter was seeing more and more boys come through his courtroom. He recognized that caring adults could help many of these kids stay out of trouble, and he set out to find volunteers. That marked the beginning of the Big Brothers movement.

At around the same time, the members of a group called Ladies of Charity were befriending girls who had come through the New York Children’s Court. That group would later become Catholic Big Sisters.

Both groups continued to work independently until 1977, when Big Brothers Association and Big Sisters International joined forces and became Big Brothers Big Sisters of America.

More than 100 years later, Big Brothers Big Sisters remains true to our founders’ vision of bringing caring role models into the lives of children. And, today, Big Brothers Big Sisters currently operates in all 50 states—and in 12 countries around the world.

Our Local History

In 1965, a group of local business leaders led by Kenny Ross founded Big Brothers of Allegheny County.  For its first several years, the agency focused its efforts on mentoring boys facing adversity in the City Pittsburgh and surrounding suburbs through the traditional Community-based Mentoring model.  Then in 1973, the agency expanded its target population to include girls who were in need.  The agency extended its service area to Washington County in 1996 and Greene County in 2002, officially becoming Big Brothers Big Sisters of Greater Pittsburgh.  In 2000, the agency introduced its second core mentoring program- Site-based Mentoring- to increase its capacity for serving local children in need.

Here is a look at our national and local history, from the start:

Date Event


Ernest Coulter, court clerk, helps organize the first New York Children's Court; Ladies of Charity, later Catholic Big Sisters of New York, starts to befriend girls who come before the New York Children's Court.


Businessman Irvin F. Westheimer befriends a young boy in Cincinnati, OH; seeds are formed for the start of Big Brothers in Cincinnati.


Ernest Coulter founds the organized Big Brothers movement by obtaining 39 volunteers, who each agree to befriend one boy.


The New York Times reports Big Brothers activity in 26 cities.


Ernest Coulter embarks on nationwide lecture tour on behalf of Big Brothers; planning begins for a national Big Brothers and Big Sisters organization.


The first national conference of Big Brothers and Big Sisters organizations is held in Grand Rapids, MI.


Theodore Roosevelt, Jr., becomes treasurer of the Big Brothers and Big Sisters Federation;
First motion picture based on a Big and Little Brother relationship is released by Paramount Pictures.


President Calvin Coolidge becomes patron of the Big Brothers and Big Sisters Federation.


Six hundred delegates attend a Big Brothers and Big Sisters Federation meeting in New York City.


President and Mrs. Franklin D. Roosevelt become patrons of Big Brothers and Big Sisters Federation.


Norman Rockwell produces the sketch that becomes a symbol for the Big Brothers Association.


Big Brothers Association is chartered by Congress.


On July 20, a group of local business leaders, including Paul O'Friel, Kenny Ross, Howard Rothchild, Dr. Marvin Bellin, Nate Parker, Sr. and Arnold Berger, meet in the office of Judge John Brosky to sign the charter, officially establishing Big Brothers Big Sisters of Allegheny County


Nancy Zappla becomes BBBS of Greater Pittsburgh's first Big Sister, when she is matched to eight-year old Darlene.


Big Sisters International and Big Brothers Association merge, forming Big Brothers Big Sisters of America with 357 agencies.


Big Brothers Big Sisters of America is honored with a commemorative stamp by the Postmaster General.


Public/Private Ventures Study on Big Brothers Big Sisters Community-Based Mentoring shows measurable, positive results on youth who have a Big Brother or Sister, seminal research in the field of youth mentoring.


BBBS of Greater Pittsburgh extends its service to Washington County.


Following a successful $2 million capital campaign, BBBS of Greater Pittsburgh moves into a completely refurbrished office facility in East Liberty.

2000 BBBs of Greater Pittsburgh launches its School-based Mentoring Program, providing even more options and flexibility for volunteers.
2002 BBBS of Greater Pittsburgh extends its service area to Greene County.


President George W. Bush announces three-year $450 million mentoring initiative in his State of the Union Address.


Big Brothers Big Sisters celebrates 100 years of serving America’s youth.


BBBS of Greater Pittsburgh's growth continues as the agency serves more than 1,000 youth during the year.


Public/Private Ventures conducts a study on Big Brothers Big Sisters School-Based Mentoring program, reinforcing the value of strong, long-lasting relationships and leading to program enhancements.

In a Super Bowl first, CBS, the NFL and Big Brothers Big Sisters joined forces to create a public service announcement that features the two coaches whose teams are competing in the game. Roughly 90 million viewers tuned in to watch the game and see Indianapolis Colts' Coach Tony Dungy and Coach Lovie Smith of the Chicago Bears underscore the importance of mentoring by referencing their real-life mentoring relationship.

2009 BBBS of Greater Pittsburgh is selected as leading mentoring partner in the Be A 6th Grade Mentor project; the largest mentoring site -based initiative in the region's history- to recruit and mobilize mentors for every 6th grade student in the Pittsburgh Public Schools.


BBBS of Greater Pittsburgh celebrates 45 years of providing quality mentoring services to children in Allegheny, Washington and Green Counties.


Big Brother Bill Bothe is selected as Big Brother of the Year in Pennsylvania and nominated for National Big Brother of the Year. 

BBBS of Greater Pittsburgh is one of just two agencies nationwide to earn both the Gold Standard Award and the Quality Award from Big Brothers Big Sisters of America.


BBBS of Greater Pittsburgh is named Mid-sized Agency of the Year by Big Brothers Big Sisters of America.  The agency is also one of just two agencies to earn the Pinnacle Award for consistent Gold Standard performance.  

BBBS of Greater Pittsburgh serves more than 1,200 children for the first time in the agency’s history.



Big Sister Roberta London is named Big Sister of the Year in Pennsylvania in celebration of her nine year relationship with Little Brother Ishemer.

BBBS of Greater Pittsburgh receives the Quality Award for the third consecutive year.

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© 2012 Big Brothers Big Sisters of Greater Pittsburgh, 5989 Centre Avenue, Pittsburgh, PA 15206, 412-363-6100

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