News From Terre Haute, Indiana

Local & Bistate

January 27, 2014

Someone in your life: Big Brothers, Big Sisters

TERRE HAUTE — David Mason always wanted a Big Brother when he was a kid, so as an adult he volunteered and now mentors a Little Brother.

Shamika Mayes had a Big Sister growing up, and she values the program so much that she made sure her oldest daughter has a Big Sister, too.

Kierah Hutchinson just turned 9 years old, and she enjoys spending time with her Big Sister, in part because her own mother died and she needs a female role model.

Testimonials from people who have benefited from Big Brothers Big Sisters of Vigo County are not hard to find. The organization launches its “30 Volunteers in 30 Days” campaign today, and potential volunteers are being asked to consider giving four hours per month to a child who needs some mentoring.

“I got involved because I wanted a Big Brother,” Mason said. “My mother died when I was young, but I was too old to get into the program. I always wanted a mentor or someone like that in my life, and I thought I would be one when I grew up.”

Mason and his little brother, Kaden, hang out a lot, going to movies, parks, swimming, church and other fun activities such as a local bounce house.

“God gives us all different talents and gifts,” Mason said, “and I think it’s great to use those skills and gifts to help kids.”

Mayes said that her Big Sister opened her eyes to a new world.

“I got to see different cultures,” Mayes recalls. “She was a vegetarian, and my family were all ‘meatheads.’ I still talk to my Big Sister today.”

Mayes said that having a Big Sister kept her out of trouble as a youth, and that’s why she wanted her oldest daughter, Ja’Miah Dodd, to have a Big Sister, too.

“It’s not always easy to talk to your parents, and she was someone I could talk to,” Mayes said of her “big.”

Her mentor also worked at Indiana State University and hosted foreign students.

“It was good to interact with different cultures,” she said. “It opens your mind up to a whole lot of possibilities, and not just thinking inside the box.”

Amanda Gilbert, a ISU senior majoring in psychology, has been mentoring Kierah for more than a year.

“I can’t believe how close we’ve gotten in just over a year,” Gilbert said recently of her “little” buddy. “We went horseback riding, to the Indianapolis Zoo, and we’re going to see a movie Saturday. A few times we’ve cooked something and done homework.”

A Jasonville native, Gilbert said she learned about Big Brothers Big Sisters at ISU. She started volunteering in the after-school program as a community service requirement. Her match with Kierah has become an important part of her life, and Kierah’s father, Paul Hutchinson, agrees that it has been a help for his family.

“It’s been awesome,” Hutchinson said. “It’s given me a break, and Amanda is awesome. I couldn’t ask for anyone better to give Kierah a role model.”

Kierah is a third-grader at Ouabache Elementary. She has six brothers, but no sisters, and being without a mom left her without a female connection in her life.

“She means a lot to me,” Kierah said of Amanda. “She is like a real sister to me. I have friends who have sisters, so I know what that’s like, too.”

Kierah said that her personal goal is to become a teacher. “I like to learn, and I like to teach,” she said. She also enjoys cheerleading, and her favorite entertainment features the boy band One Direction and Justin Bieber.

The third-grader said her favorite thing about having a Big Sister is, “She gets to do stuff with me.”

Working at a Big Brother Big Sister carwash fundraiser was Kierah’s favorite group activity, while her dad said his favorite day was a fishing rodeo when Kierah caught her first fish.

“Yeah, but I didn’t touch it,” Kierah said of her catch.

The organization hosts events throughout the year for its participants. The youths who are on the waiting list to get their own Big Brother or Big Sister also participate, as do those in the site-based program at area schools. Coming up in April is the Bowl For Kids’ Sake fundraiser.

Program coordinator Holly Mullenix said the organization has about 40 children on a waiting list. Most are boys.

A recent national study for the organization shows that because of their involvement in the program, Little Brothers and Little Sisters are:

• 46 percent less likely to begin using illegal drugs

• 27 percent less likely to begin using alcohol

• 52 percent less likely to skip school.

• 33 percent less likely to bully or hit someone.

• more confident in their schoolwork performance.

• able to get along better with their families.

The youths in the program are ages 6 to 12 when they get their matches. They can continue in the program until age 18. The basis of the match is that a parent, guardian or teacher believes that the child will benefit from the presence of an additional caring adult in his or her life.

Anyone wanting to get involved in the Vigo County organization by volunteering or making a donation can call 812-232-5190 to learn more. Information is also available online at www.casyonline.org through the Youth Prevention Programs tab.

Reporter Lisa Trigg can be reached at 812-231-4254 or lisa.trigg@tribstar.com. Follow her on Twitter @TribStarLisa.

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