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Mentoring makes a difference at Big Brothers Big Sisters

January 15, 2003|by STACEY DANZUSO

chambersburg@herald-mail.com

Chris Vanderweele and Kyle Smith playfully poke at one another during a break from video games.

It's a typical weekend afternoon for the two, who were matched through the Franklin County Big Brothers Big Sisters program.

Vanderweele, 31, plays the role of big brother to 9-year-old Kyle, a fourth-grader at Fairview Elementary School in Waynesboro, Pa.

"I saw an article somewhere on Big Brothers Big Sisters and decided to look it up," Vanderweele said.

He and Kyle immediately bonded over LEGO toys, puzzles and swimming at the YMCA.

"He acts like a 9-year-old when I'm around," said Kyle, who lives with his sister, Missy, 11, and his grandmother. "We mostly play computer games or go buy stuff."

Vanderweele, who works in the information technology department at Washington County Hospital in Hagerstown, admitted that is mostly true.

"He keeps me young and at least active," he said.

His grandmother said Vanderweele has made an impact on Kyle, too.

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"He really loves Chris. Chris is like a father and big brother all wrapped up in one," said Mary Smith.

Vanderweele and Kyle are one of 34 matches in the county through the Big Brothers Big Sisters program, said Carey Nunn, area coordinator.

There is a waiting list of another 10 youths who would like a mentor, she said.

The requirements to become a mentor are simple: Volunteers must be at least 20 years old and live or work in Franklin County.

"They have to be willing to give time two or three times a month," Nunn said.

Nunn is hoping to drum up more interest in the agency and find volunteers to wipe out her waiting list this month, which is National Mentoring Month.

The national campaign kicked off Jan. 1, and a coalition of nonprofit organizations, including Big Brothers Big Sisters of America, the Alliance for Youth, America's Promise and Points of Light are celebrating the importance of mentoring and the many positive effects it can have on young lives.

Big Brothers Big Sisters has been matching at-risk children ages 7 to 16 with an adult role model since 1997 in Franklin County.

It currently serves 222 children through its many programs, and its goal for 2003 is to reach 250 youths, Nunn said.

A partnership between the four area high schools and their respective elementary schools is how the majority of the youths find mentors.

Currently, 157 children are matched with high school students and they meet weekly at their elementary school, Nunn said.

Children with mentors tend to show improved school performance, are less likely to skip school and initiate substance abuse and have a greater sense of hope and optimism for their futures, according to Nunn.

For more information on mentoring opportunities available through Big Brothers Big Sisters, call 717-261-0094 or visit the Web site at www.capbigs.org.

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