for release April 20, 2001
by Melodie Davis
Brother, Sister, Can You Spare Some Time?
Barbara was a shy wisp of a girl: blond with huge blue eyes that quickly mirrored whether she was upset or excited. At first it was difficult to get more than a yes or no out of her, no matter what my question was. Gary, on the other hand, was talkative, adventurous, and brought his dachshund dog out for lively play with my husband's half-golden retriever. We started out as Big Brother and Big Sister to Barbara and Gary with pretty selfish reasons: wanting to see what the other partner looked like in a parenting role. We were married, in our early twenties, and thought we wanted to be parents some day. But we weren't quite ready to make the big step.
Well, it did turn out to be a good experience in parenting by proxy. It was also a good way to meet others in our community and be more in touch with the needs and daily crises of single parent families who were struggling with low incomes.
Barbara gave me a reason to go to playgrounds and toy stores and reconnect with my childhood. We baked together, sewed, shopped, went to an occasional movie, roller skating, and of course participated in the various parties planned by the Big Brothers and Big Sisters organization. Slowly, we became cautious friends.
Stuart and Gary became fast, casual friends. Stuart was especially pleased when Gary's grandmother reported that Gary's grades had come up since he had started doing things with Stuart. I just now realized what a good job Big Brothers Big Sisters did in matching both of us: our "littles" were a lot like our own personalities.
This month Big Brothers Big Sisters is celebrating 25 years since its founding in our community. I recall that some people from our church joined with others to set up the local program. Some of the persons on the task force had worked for a number of years in prison ministry and realized they were trying to help young people "fix" their lives after they had already gotten into trouble. The task force wanted to help kids from getting into trouble, and said, why not help form a Big Brother Big Sister chapter to aid in that long term educational/mentoring effort?
Big Brothers was first founded in the U.S. in 1904. (There's a separate program in Canada.) Big Brothers and Big Sisters merged in 1977, the year my husband and I joined the program. Children from mostly single-parent families are matched with an adult to spend time together usually three to four times a month.
Locally, there are many different programs in Big Brothers Big Sisters besides the core program described above. A school mentoring program allows volunteers to spend time tutoring children during the school day. There is a Hands Up mentoring program in connection with the Boys and Girls Club where volunteers spend time working at academics and recreational activities at the Boys and Girls Club Center.
The kind of thing Gary's grandmother noticed after his match with Stuart is a frequent phenomenon of the programs: for students matched in the Hands Up program, 75 percent increased their math and reading levels, 82 percent increased their spelling level, and 91 percent improved behavior.
A Big Brother Big Sister match is very carefully screened, administered and supported by rigorous standards and trained staff. They look for matches that are not only safe and suited to the child's needs, but also harmonious and built to last. The last thing that most children in these situations need is a relationship that doesn't work out, so the social workers who oversee the matches work very hard to avoid these kinds of problems.
One local success story is Jolene Wean, who was ten years old when she was first matched with a Big Sister.She has became one of the best fundraisers for the Big Brother Big Sister annual Bowl for Kids' Sake fundraiser. Last year at the age of 16 she raised more than $1,600 in cash to win the grand prize of $1,000 which went into her college fund.
When we started expecting our first child, we felt it was time to get out of the program in order to parent our own children. But when I no longer hear the pitter patter of feet around our house anymore, I would consider mentoring in one form or another again. Can you spare some time?
Do you have any stories of mentoring to share? Send to: Melodie Davis, Another Way c/o Name\Address of YOUR newspaper; or e-mail: Melodie@mennomedia.org.
You can also visit Another Way on the Web at www.thirdway.com.
Melodie Davis is the author of seven books and has written her column since 1987. She taught feature writing and has won awards from a number of organizations including the National Federation of Press Women, Virginia Press Women and the American Advertising Association. She and her husband have three growing daughters.
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