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Adults honored for making a Big difference to kids

June 12, 2006|by JANET HEIM

Wendy Avey describes herself as a workaholic. As store manager of the L.L. Bean store at Prime Outlets, her hours are demanding and her job requires some travel.

Still, after the annual United Way appeal several years ago, Avey decided she wanted to give more than just dollars. She wanted to share her time and heart.

That's when she learned about Big Brothers Big Sister's school-based mentoring program, where mentors are paired up with students at select public schools in the county. She said the time commitment of about one hour each week during the school year is perfect for her.

Avey was paired with her Little Sister, Stephanie Hetzer, when the program began two years ago. They meet at E. Russell Hicks Middle School where Stephanie just completed the seventh grade.

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Both share a passion for crafting. During their weekly time together, they will work on schoolwork, then spend time working on a craft together as a reward

Avey, 38, of Hagerstown, recently received the School-based Mentor of the Year Award. She was recognized, along with June Mellott and Andy Morgan, who were selected as Big Sister and Big Brother of the Year, respectively. The awards were presented at a dinner held at the Four Points Sheraton.

At the dinner, Avey's Little Sister, known as a Little, stood shaking like a leaf as she read the essay she'd written about Avey in a barely audible voice.

"That was just the cherry on the sundae," Avey said. "That was hard for her."

June Mellott, 66, of Hagers-town, has been paired with her Little Sister, Keiana Hardman, for five years. Mellott, who has three adult children and two grandchildren, said it was the love for children that got her involved with the program.

"When I get Keiana, the focus is on her. It's not about me," Mellott said. "I enjoy it every week, if I can. It's an honor."

Mellott and Keiana like to go to the movies, have long conversations, read, swim and spend time at Mellott's home, near Hagerstown Regional Airport. They share the same birthday, June 21, and like to celebrate together - this year with a trip to Hersheypark.

Mellott has noticed a difference in Keiana, who just completed fifth grade at Salem Avenue Elementary, since they've been together. She said her Little is much more outgoing than she used to be and seems to have more confidence.

John "Andy" Morgan has been inspired by his wife, Mindy's, involvement with the program. He said she has been a Big Sister for many years and received an award in West Virginia when they were Bigs there. They met at Shepherd University when they were students there.

Morgan, 27, lives in Clear Spring and teaches graphic design at Hagerstown Business College. He describes his Little, Philip Rodriguz, as a hard working student with many amazing talents.

He said Philip, who will be a senior at South Hagerstown High School, loves computers, is learning Japanese and has taught himself to play piano and guitar. He has a 3.8 grade-point average and hopes to go to the United States Military Academy at West Point after high school.

Morgan and Philip have been paired for four years and spend their time hiking the Appalachian Trail, riding bikes on the C&O Canal, renting movies and building Web sites.

As for being selected Big Brother of the Year, Morgan said it was unexpected.

"I was surprised. I didn't think I was doing anything special. My question was "Why?" Morgan said.

Adults are needed for the Big Brothers Big Sisters program, especially men. They can provide the friendship, stability, encouragement and attention that may be lacking at home.

"We need to provide an extra friend that these kids can turn to," said Crystal Davis, casework supervisor at Big Brothers Big Sisters.

Avey said it doesn't have to cost anything to be a Big. They are encouraged to take advantage of the many free activities available in the community.

For more information about volunteering with the program, call Crystal Davis at 301-739-4711.

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