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Big Brothers Big Sisters

March 29, 2001

Big Brothers Big Sisters



By MEG H. PARTINGTON

megp@herald-mail.com

Mentoring a young person is a Big job.

Through Big Brothers Big Sisters programs in the Tri-State area, young people are matched with adults who are willing to share their time, life experiences and hearts.

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"We have some really neat people," said Carey Nunn, area coordinator for Big Brothers Big Sisters of Franklin County, Pa. "The kids learn just as much as the adults do."

The programs pair adult volunteers with young people in need of guidance, many of whom are from single-parent homes, according to the Web site for Big Brothers Big Sisters of America, www.bbbsa.org.

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The adults, called "Bigs," act as positive role models, support the educational and emotional growth of the children they are matched with - called "Littles" - and participate in leisure activities with them.

The time requirements vary with each county's program, but generally Big Brothers and Big Sisters have contact with their Littles for a few hours, two to four times a month, for a minimum of one year. Talking on the phone between visits is encouraged.

Nunn recommends that activities be inexpensive, though some Bigs like to treat their Littles to adventures like amusement park outings.

Children are referred to the programs by teachers, guidance counselors, mental-health professionals and sometimes parents, Nunn said.

In one-on-one matches, men are matched with boys and women are matched with girls, Nunn said. There is also room for Big Couples, men and women who together are matched with children of either sex, she said.

Littles should have a parent or guardian willing to facilitate the development of the relationship with a volunteer, according to the Web site for Big Brothers Big Sisters of the Eastern Panhandle, www.intrepid.net/bbbs.

The process



As with many worthwhile duties, there are applications to complete and interviews to undergo before being accepted.

Littles fill out applications, in which they outline their interests, Nunn said.

Bigs fill out applications and must provide references. They also go through "clearance checks" to make sure they have no criminal background or history of child abuse, she said.

Bigs are interviewed at Big Brothers Big Sisters offices, then at their homes, Nunn said. Littles and their parents are interviewed at their homes so they are more comfortable and so program organizers can get a feel for the children's family life, she said.

"We kind of match them up based on their interests," Nunn said.

For the first year, Bigs, Littles and the Littles' parents are called regularly by Big Brothers Big Sisters staff members to keep track of their progress. They're asked if any improvements have been seen in such things as grades and family relationships, and if the Big and Little have become more comfortable with each other, Nunn said.

The Big-Little relationship is assessed after a year, Nunn said.

Positive results



A study conducted in the early 1990s by the Philadelphia-based Public/Private Ventures showed the positive effects of the one-on-one attention that Big Brothers Big Sisters provides.

It showed that Little Brothers and Little Sisters were 46 percent less likely to use illegal drugs; 27 percent less likely to drink alcohol; 53 percent less likely to skip school; and 37 percent less likely to skip a class, according to the Web site for Big Brothers Big Sisters of America, www.bbbsa.org. Children involved in the program were more confident in their school performance, less likely to hit someone and got along better with their families, the study said.

Most of the youth in the study were between the ages of 10 and 14, and most were from low-income households. More than 60 percent were boys and more than half were minorities, according to the Web site.

Other programs



While Big Brothers Big Sisters programs traditionally match those 18 and older with children, some area organizations offer additional opportunities.

Big Brothers Big Sisters of Frederick County, Md., utilizes 300 volunteers to serve 450 children and 50 senior citizens, said Executive Director Sushil Bhattacharjee.

In addition to the typical Big/Little matches, the county offers a high school mentoring program, three after-school programs and an alternate-to-school suspension program that provides kids with an alternative to sitting around watching talk shows in the afternoon.

Big Brothers Big Sisters of Frederick County also has an intergenerational program that matches middle- and high-school students with older citizens, and one through which middle- and high-school students interact with mentally and physically challenged young people, Bhattacharjee said.

Big Brothers Big Sisters of the Eastern Panhandle offers High School Bigs in Morgan County, W.Va., and Mentoring Moms, which matches experienced mothers with teen mothers, said Julie Rose, executive director. The Panhandle organization also created Campus Pals, through which Shepherd College students are paired with children in Berkeley and Jefferson counties, she said.

Similarly, in Franklin County, students at Shippensburg University are paired with children in Shippensburg, Pa., Nunn said.

In addition, students from Chambersburg Area Senior High, Waynesboro Area Senior High and Greencastle-Antrim High schools meet at area elementary schools with children, Nunn said.

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