(Posted Aug. 10, 2021)
By Kristy Zurbrick, Madison Editor
Big Brothers Big Sisters (BBBS) of Central Ohio is looking for adult volunteers (Bigs) to serve as mentors to children (Littles) in Madison County.
The program’s purpose is to help children develop positive relationships that have a lasting impact on their lives.
Two options are available for anyone interested in volunteering–school-based mentoring and community-based mentoring. Both require volunteers to be at least 18 years old, complete an application and background checks, and attend a two-hour training. BBBS pays for the background checks, and the training is free. The next training session will be held virtually on Sept. 7 from 6 to 8 p.m.
Following the training, BBBS staff members will meet with the new volunteers.
“We find out their interests and preferences in hopes that we can match them with a youth with similar interests and preferences,” said Gina Burke, program manager. “For example, we have a girl who really likes Harry Potter and is into art. We will try to find an adult mentor who shares those interests.”
BBBS asks Bigs to make an 18-month commitment to their Littles. In many cases, those relationships end up extending beyond the initial commitment.
“We have many stories of Bigs and Littles maintaining a connection into adulthood,” Burke said.
Positive, supportive social connection is the root goal of Big Brothers Big Sisters.
“It’s important for a child to know how to build a relationship with someone and have a conversation in person–to build social capital,” Burke said. “Mentoring has been shown to improve school performance and increase a child’s resiliency. It helps build confidence and self-esteem.”
BBBS accepts referrals of youths ages 5 to 17. Currently, the children awaiting mentor matches in Madison County range in age from 9 to 16.
BBBS started a school-based program at London Elementary a few years ago. They plan to resume the program this school year. In the future, they hope to add other schools around the county.
This year, they are looking for volunteers to match with fourth-graders at London Elementary.
“We would like six mentors for our school-based program. I would be thrilled if we ended up with more than that. I won’t turn anyone away,” Burke said.
Mentors will meet with their Littles once a week from 11 a.m. to noon starting in late September. Sessions will take place in a designated space at the school during the students’ recess period. BBBS staff will be on site to lead social-emotional activities designed to help build relationships, starting with group and icebreaker activities then moving on to more one-on-one activities.
Bigs and Littles will meet only during the school year. They will not meet over holiday breaks or over the summer.
Melissa Canney, London City Schools’ student support specialist, will identify potential students for the program and send information and applications home to the students’ parents. BBBS staff will then meet with participating students to find out their interests and preferences.
In contrast to school-based mentoring, BBBS’s community-based mentoring leaves much of the structure up to the Bigs and Littles themselves. Instead of meeting on a certain day at a certain place with staff-led activities, volunteers work directly with the parents or guardians to schedule outings of their own choosing. BBBS asks that Bigs meet up with their Littles at least twice a month for low-cost or no-cost activities.
“Volunteers receive support from our staff. We will call them every month to see how they are doing and offer ideas for activities. We do the same with the parents and guardians, checking in once a month to see how things are going,” Burke said.
For the first six months, Bigs are not permitted to bring their Littles to their homes for outings. After that time period, they may do so with permission from the child’s parents or guardians.
“Right now, we have a wait list of eight kids for our community-based mentoring,” Burke said. “I wish we had enough volunteers to open up to more referrals.”
The referrals come from the school system and Madison County’s Family and Children First Council.
For more information and to inquire about becoming a Big Brother or Big Sister, visit www.bbbscentralohio.org or contact Gina Burke at firstname.lastname@example.org or (937) 536-1582.