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Big Brothers/Sisters director loves job

December 29, 2008|By JANET HEIM

WASHINGTON COUNTY -- Alecha Sanbower said she loves her new job as executive director of Big Brothers Big Sisters of Washington County. Her wealth of experience, including a background in human services and working with at-risk kids, seems tailor-made for the job.

She also teaches juvenile justice classes at Kaplan College in Hagerstown.

"It has helped me a lot to get acclimated to this job. It's helped me understand what these kids are going through," said Sanbower, 40.

Sanbower lives in Waynesboro, Pa., with her husband, Charles, and 8-year-old daughter Lily. In her previous job, she worked for Franklin County government as director of quality improvement for the criminal justice system.

Having previously worked for a local management board in Hagerstown, Sanbower knew she wanted to return to working in Hagerstown. She applied for the BBBS job after seeing an ad in The Herald-Mail and began working there in August.

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"Everything just came together to say this is what you should be doing. I was fortunate they hired me. I was ready for a new challenge, a new direction," Sanbower said.

Sanbower said she's been familiarizing herself with the staff and the programs of BBBS. She is doing online training to receive her certification through the national office.

The "very capable" staff has been welcoming and has helped ease the transition, Sanbower said. The biggest surprise has been discovering the number of young people on the waiting list for adult mentors.

The Big Brothers Big Sisters program offers two programs -- community-based and school-based mentoring programs that pair adult volunteers with local youth. Sanbower said there are 16 students on the school-based waiting list, which requires about a one-hour commitment per week during the school year, and 11 youth on the community-based waiting list, about a two- to three-hour weekly commitment.

"It showed me what a valuable service we offer, how organizations like ours are such a resource for these kids," many of whom come from single-parent homes, Sanbower said.

"Previous jobs don't even compare. Seeing how they help kids every day, I can't compare it to anything else. It's wonderful," Sanbower said.

She said it is increasingly harder to find volunteers, as more people work outside the home. Sanbower said she recruits volunteers at community events, fairs and schools.

"It is so rewarding, watching the Bigs and Littles together, to see the smiles on the kids' faces," Sanbower said.

Another challenge Sanbower faces is finding the funding in this economic climate to sustain the programs BBBS offers. She is applying for local and national grants but discovering that some sources, such as government funding, are no longer available.

Sanbower is a graduate of Waynesboro Area Senior High School. She graduated from American University in Washington, D.C., in 1991, and got a master's degree from Shippensburg (Pa.) University in 1994.

She moved away after college but returned to the area because she and her husband felt it was a good place to raise a family.

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