News From Terre Haute, Indiana

Local & Bistate

January 27, 2014

Volunteer drive seeks ‘bigs’ to match with ‘littles’

TERRE HAUTE — Being a Big Brother or a Big Sister to a young person looking for a mentor can be a rewarding opportunity.

Just ask the numerous adults who have accepted that commitment to making a difference for a young person.

“I’ve gained a great friendship,” said Big Sister Amanda Gilbert, who took her Little Sister Kierah to a movie on Saturday as one of their regular outings.

There is now a backlog of “littles” – as they are called – waiting to be matched with a “big.” So, Big Brothers Big Sisters of Vigo County is kicking off a “30 Volunteers in 30 Days” campaign starting today and running through Feb. 24.

It’s an effort to recruit volunteers to make matches on the waiting list, which now has 40 youths seeking mentors.

Spending four hours per month for a year with a “little” is the commitment that a “big” makes to the program.

“There is not a doubt in my mind that we will have 30 volunteers in 30 days,” program coordinator Holly Mullenix said recently while talking about the effort.

A reorganized advisory council of 15 active people is excited about expanding the program, she said.

Two of the council members – Sally Whitehurst and Claudia Tanoos – are spearheading the volunteer recruitment.

Another council member – Norm Loudermilk – is working on discount cards that the “bigs” can use to take their “littles” places such as restaurants, theaters and museums to keep the costs down.

Others on the council are also working on projects that will attract more “bigs” and support the “littles” and their families.

“I think in the next year, you’re going to see this advisory council really take off,” Mullenix said.

All on the Big Brothers Big Sisters of Vigo County staff are committed to the organization’s vision of successful mentoring relationships for all children who need and want them. That vision would contribute to better schools, brighter futures and stronger communities for all. The mission of the organization is to help children reach their potential through professionally supported, one-to-one relationships with measurable impacts.

Billie Kaufman, youth programs manager for Chances and Services for Youth, recently told a group of United Way board members who were touring the CASY facility on 13th Street how the staff tries to help “little” families stay connected.

Kaufman said that a mother staying in a local homeless shelter signed up her daughter as a “little” but told the program staff that she and her children were on the run from an abusive spouse, so, if he found them, they would have to move again quickly. When the mother and children disappeared, the Big Brother Big Sister staff tried to track them down, and eventually through some community contacts, found that the mother and children had safely relocated elsewhere in the city. They were still interested in participating in the mentoring program.

That kind of continued effort to make sure that a family in crisis had found a new home and had kept its children in school is the kind of commitment the staff makes to helping children and families, Kaufman said.

“This is who they are. They want to help people. This staff makes this their lives,” she said.

The staff also helps the adult mentors. Once those who apply go through a background check and interviews, the staff supplies training and makes a match with a child, based on common interests. The staff also makes monthly support contacts with the “big” to make sure that the match is working, and to offer help or suggestions.

Of the “littles” waiting for a match, most are boys. Children ages 6 to 12 are eligible to be matched, and they can stay in the program until they are age 18. Those who are not “matched” remain in a pool and are invited to Big Brother Big Sister events such as Halloween, Christmas and Easter parties.

Some children also participate in the site-based program, which meets at area schools in Terre Haute and Brazil to provide group activities.

Volunteers have options on how they choose to volunteer. Some become community-based “bigs” and meet with their “littles” once a week to participate in an activity.

Some join as a “big” couple and team up with a spouse to meet with a “little” once a week and participate in an activity.

Some become a site-based “big” and meet with a “little” in a supervised setting for one hour twice per month.

Anyone interested in the program can contact the Big Brothers Big sisters office at 812-232-5190, ext 52 or send an email to Mullenix at hmullenix@casyonline.org.

The program also has pages on Facebook and Twitter, offering information and the ability to share with friends.

Those who cannot volunteer are still encouraged to donate to the program. One example that Mullenix shared was a couple of “bigs” who donated $200 so a family could buy Christmas for their children.

For more information on how to get involved, go online to www.caseyonline.org and select Youth Prevention Programs.

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

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