Behind a child who rises to their full potential, there is often a supportive adult cheering them on. Sometimes a parent is the guiding force, but for some children in the South Central Wisconsin area, that person just might be someone from the Big Brothers Big Sisters Organization.
The agency strives to match youth with “Bigs,” as the organization calls them. These are community members who want to spend time with youth and who are able to encourage them to reach their highest potential in all areas including social, academic and in their career choices.
Beginning in 1904 as Big Brothers and merging with its sister organization in 1977 becoming Big Brothers Big Sisters, the agency is the longest-running youth mentoring program in the nation. The Big Brothers Big Sisters organization of South Central Wisconsin, includes Rock, Walworth, and Jefferson counties and recently incorporated Dodge County into their agency. With this large coverage area, BBBS has been able to facilitate many lifelong friendships.
“Sometimes the friendship lasts just a year. Students or mentors move away, or they complete a year-long program,” explains Pam Carper, Executive Director of Big Brothers Big Sisters of South Central Wisconsin. “But, often, those friendships last a lifetime. We work hard for the students and the volunteer mentors. We try to match them with a person who has the same interests, so that they can really enjoy spending time with one another,” says Carper.
For those interested in getting involved, BBBS of South Central Wisconsin offers two mentoring programs that provide the opportunity to work with youth. The community-based program is more flexible for the mentor. The family of the “Little” and the mentor work out a schedule where they spend time together approximately six to eight hours per month. According to Carper, this option is flexible, while still remaining consistent.
The second program offered by BBBS is a site-based program.
“Mentors meet with their student during their lunch period once a week,” Carper explains. “That is a specific time, [so] what always seems to happen is that when the word gets out that a Big is coming in that day, all the friends want to sit with the Big and their Little. It is really a neat thing to see not only the two of them interacting, but the mentor interacting with their student’s peers.”
Students ages six to fourteen are referred to BBBS South Central Wisconsin by schools, parents, grandparents or another adult or agency. Mentors ages 16 and older go through an extensive background check and application process which grants them the title of a Big.
The work that happens behind the scenes to match students with the right mentors aids in facilitating unique and special relationships.
“Once relationships form, there are so many beautiful stories that evolve,” Carper says, recalling a Little who was paired with a young couple. They spent time cooking and doing everyday things with one another. “This couple was a model of what a good relationship looks like. They shared with the Little how people might disagree without fighting. The Little said that all his parents do is fight, but this couple showed him an example of a loving, safe environment,” Carper says. “And the Little is a young man now and has done quite well for himself. It is really nice to see.”
On another occasion, one Big was interested in building scale replicas of life-size vehicles. Carper recounted that the Little with whom he was paired with had a love of trains and it reignited his love for building models.
“Together, they now have a whole room of model trains that they have built together,” Carper says. What started as a love of locomotives grew into a passion for learning and spending time with one another. And thus, yet another lifelong friendship began.
To volunteer and embark on a life changing friendship or to make a financial contribution, contact Pam Carper at the BBBS South Central Wisconsin office by phone: 262.728.8865
or email at: firstname.lastname@example.org. To learn more about the organization, visit www.bbbs4kids.org.
By: Tricia Carzoli