Big Brothers Big Sisters visits Dowagiac Rotary Club

DOWAGIAC — Members of the Dowagiac Rotary Club learned a lesson in mentorship Thursday afternoon.

Jenny Miner, executive director of Big Brothers Big Sisters of Lower West Michigan, visited the Dowagiac Rotary Club during their regularly scheduled meeting Thursday. During her visit, Miner presented to the club about the history of Big Brothers Big Sisters, the impact of the program and the services the organization provides to the counties of Berrien, Cass and St. Joseph.

Big Brothers Big Sisters is a mentorship program operating in all 50 states and 12 countries. In operations since 1904, the program works by partnering a local, at-risk child, aged 6 to 18, with a stable, qualified adult mentor to spend time with them and guide them. Because they will be in a one-on-relationship with a child, each volunteer goes through a significant vetting process including a criminal background check.

“We are a mentoring program, not to be confused with the Boys and Girls Club,” Miner said. “Big Brothers Big Sisters is a mentoring organization. We don’t have a club; we have an office. … We match people one on one.”

Big Brothers Big Sisters of Lower West Michigan offers many programs in the area. Some programs include:

• Bigs in Blue, a program that connects local youth with police officers.

• Lunch Buddies, a program where mentors spend a lunch hour once a week with a local child.

• Community mentoring, a program meant to provide mentorship outside of the school system.

• Peer mentor, a staff-facilitated program where upperclassmen in high school are paired with third graders.

• Reading Buddies, Big Brothers Big Sisters’ newest program in Dowagiac, where a mentor will spend time reading with a first or second grader once a week to improve literacy levels as students enter the third grade.

Miner said the mentorship relationship between a mentor and a child in the Big Brothers Big Sisters program makes a positive impact in the child’s life, as statistics show that children in the program tend to see an increase in both confidence and school performance.

“This program is about giving kids what they need,” Miner said. “Everybody needs somebody in their corner sometimes, and it’s nice to know that, no matter what, this person is going to be there. That’s what we are all about.”

Before she completed her presentation, Miner said she was grateful for the community support and sponsors that Big Brothers Big Sisters has, saying the organization wouldn’t be able to operate without them.

“Without support, we wouldn’t exist,” she said. “This program has been going on a long time and has been very successful. … We believe that this can help youth be successful.”

For more information about the Big Brothers Big Sisters program or to get involved, email Miner at executivedirectors@bbsoflw.org.

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