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Big Brothers Big Sisters issues back-to-school call to action

Published 10:42pm Thursday, September 6, 2012

As children head back to school, Big Brothers Big Sisters of Berrien and Cass issues a call to action to the community to make a difference in the life of a child by volunteering to be a Big Brother or Sister mentor.

The donor-supported mentoring organization carefully matches children with volunteer mentors in one-to-one professionally guided long-term relationships.

The agency provides ongoing support to the volunteers, mentees and mentors throughout the course of each match to keep the mentoring friendship going strong.

The goal for Big Brother and Big Sister mentors in all of the BBBS programs is to help build the child’s self-confidence, encourage better school performance and help each child have a brighter view of his or her future.

BBBS has two programs from which prospective volunteers may choose. The first is the Community-Based Program that matches an adult with a child of the same gender between ages 6 and 12. All applicants must be 18 or older and undergo a background check and full screening process.

Community-Based Bigs spend 10 hours or more a month with their protege and are free to take them to the library, to a sports event, go for a walk, play catch, watch a movie, work on a project or participate in other activities the pair might be interested in. The purpose of the program is not improving academics, although that is a side benefit of increasing the child’s self-esteem and their vision of themselves as they begin to build their future. The minimum commitment for the Big is one year.

The second program is the Site-Based Program. BBBS offers the Lunch Buddy, Dinner Buddy and Peer Mentoring Programs as options for the Site-Based Program.

The Lunch Buddy Program is held at elementary schools in Benton Harbor, Berrien Springs, Brandywine, Buchanan, Cassopolis, Dowagiac, New Buffalo, Niles, River Valley and Watervliet school districts. Peer mentoring programs are currently in New Buffalo Middle and High Schools, as well as Lake Michigan Catholic in St. Joseph and Sorter Elementary in Benton Harbor.

Volunteer Bigs with this program are asked to spend one lunch hour per week with the same child. It can be a different day each week, depending on the Big’s schedule. Volunteers talk, play games or work on school projects with their Little Brothers or Sisters.

However, since this is a Site-Based Program, the Big may not meet with the child other than at the Lunch Buddy site, nor may he or she transport them to or from the site.

The Dinner Buddy Program invites Big Brother and Big Sister volunteer mentors to meet with a child who is a member of the Boys and Girls Club of Benton Harbor. Visits can occur between 4 and 7 p.m. weekdays.

The benefit of this program is that Bigs can stay for longer than just the dinner hour and have the benefit of a library, game room, gym and other amenities that help a friendship blossom.

The results of these programs can be seen in the Big Brothers Big Sisters Program Outcome Evaluations, which are completed at the end of each school year by Bigs, Littles and by the children’s teachers.

In the 2011-2012 evaluation, BBBS was particularly pleased to see improvement in:

• Self-confidence — 77 percent increase

• School-performance — 75 percent increase

Big Brothers Big Sisters of Berrien and Cass welcomes inquiries from prospective Big Brothers and Big Sisters who may be interested in the Community-Based or Site-Based Program. Inquiries may be directed to Executive Director Christina Frank at (toll-free) (877) 367-2244 ext. 3 or via email at info@bbbsofbc.org.

Prospective volunteers may also go to the BBBS website at www.bbbsofbc.org to learn more.

Big Brothers Big Sisters of Berrien and Cass is a United Way-funded partner.

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