Be Someone Special
Put a little "Magic" into a Child's Life
by Jennifer LB Leese
Have you ever thought of being a mentor but you just can't find the extra time? Well, Big Brothers Big Sisters of Washington County (BBBSWC) have made that dilemma quite simple.
In 2002, the organization opened a school-based mentoring program in Eastern Elementary School. It worked so well that in the 2005-2006 school year, they will have yet another program, totaling four in the Hagerstown area. The schools include: Eastern Elementary, Pangborn Elementary, E. Russell Hicks Middle, and Fountaindale Elementary. BBBSWC serves elementary and middle school students (K-8) who have been identified by a teacher as needing academic support or help with socialization.
Big Brothers Big Sisters of America is a national youth organization that matches volunteer mentors with children. Over 500 local agencies exist across the country and serve tens of thousands of children in all types of communities. Big Brothers Big Sisters of Washington County, Maryland is our local agency, serving children in Washington County, Maryland. Their volunteers are called Big Brothers and Big Sisters, and the children with whom they are matched are called Little Brothers and Little Sisters. Since 1956, the local program has matched hundreds of children with caring volunteer mentors.
The school-based mentoring program was designed so volunteers can help a child...spend time with a child...mentor a child. Involved with this program are people from high school students to senior citizens who volunteer as Big Brothers and Big Sisters to younger children.
As a volunteer, you are matched with a child from a participating school. You then become that child's special friend and role model, offering support, attention, and encouragement. You are not a substitute parent. You're there to help take some of the stress out of life in a single-parent home, to be a source of friendship and guidance for your little brother or little sister and just to let them know you care and that they are important. It's that simple!
"Volunteers are given the opportunity to help a child in the school. They report to the school on a designated day and specific time," said Mentor Manager, Tracy Mumma. School-based matches visit with one another for 45 minutes to an hour each week for the entire school year. Matches are selected through interests of both the volunteer and the child. "We ask for a one year commitment," Tracy said. Even though BBBSWC understands that personal things come up and you can't always make it to a mentoring session. In that case, they ask that you "Call me [Tracy Mumma] and let me know so I can tell the child and the teacher." Being consistent in your routine benefits the child and your relationship. "They really look forward to it."
"A Big Brother or Big Sister must be reliable and consistent. Many of the children we serve have few stable and caring relationships in their lives," said BBBSWC of Washington County. "One benefit of being a school-based mentor is having the opportunity to provide a child with a dependable and committed friend." Big Brothers Big Sisters of Washington County believe that the relationship between mentor and child provides the child with an increased sense of belonging, and often leads to enhanced communication skills and improved performance at home, school, and in the community.
When you agree to mentor through BBBSWC, you (now a "Big") report to the school of your choice to be with your "little". "They spend time with that child playing games, doing some type of activity that will help build their self-esteem and their confidence" away from the classroom at school in a area that has been approved by the school. The mentor and the child can basically do anything that gives the child emotional support. They can read a book, do homework or a project, go to the library or computer lab, play cards or board games, draw, paint, share jokes, laugh, and/or talk about their families and friends. "We focus more on the emotional aspects," said Tracy. "The time together is based on the child's interest and what the child likes to do."
"The most important thing a mentor can do for a child is to be a friend...to listen, give advice if asked, and have fun!"
Volunteers have so much to offer children: their energy, enthusiasm, care, and creativity. It is important to remember that children look up to and admire their mentors.
After reading all this...you may still be wondering "Why should I volunteer as a mentor?" I'll put it simple. Volunteering is fun and rewarding. BBBSWC has proven that many of the children matched with a mentor have shown improvements in self-confidence, academics, and even social skills. A recent study conducted by Public/Private Ventures, a respected national research firm based in Philadelphia, examined the impact of mentoring on youth. They found that 46% of "littles" were less likely than their peers to start using illegal drugs and 27% less likely to start drinking. The list and percentages go on and are astounding. Besides the statistics-becoming a mentor will give you the excuse to do "act like a child". Big Brothers Big Sisters of Washington County sponsors activities and picnics every other month for the mentor and child as a way to say thank you.
"With more volunteers and funding, we can advance further," said Tracy.
Becoming a volunteer for Big Brothers Big Sisters of Washington County is easy. Call Tracy Mumma and tell her you are interested in becoming a mentor and she'll take it from there. When calling Tracy, keep this in mind, volunteers are asked to give three references and are asked to fill out an application, approve a MVA and criminal background check and conduct a brief "get to know you" interview. Tracy said, "The program is very user-friendly. I can come to you. It's no lengthy process." Mentors must have their own reliable transportation and must be at least 18 years of age. Mentors are matched female/female or female/male.
Don't worry if you've never been a mentor or volunteer before. BBBSWC mentors are not left on their own to build a friendship with a child. Program staff members provide continuing support and assistance, not only to mentors, but also to the children and their parents. "We are available to discuss questions and concerns, as well as positive mentoring experiences."
If you're a school who may be interested in having the school-based mentoring program in your school, call Tracy to learn more about the program. They have flyers you can post in the school to help gain volunteers or to recruit existing volunteers.
The Big Brothers Big Sisters of Washington County needs your help! They have a waiting list of children in need and they need many more volunteers. "We would like to see up to 50 mentors per school," said Tracy
BBBSWC hopes that you will volunteer to become a mentor, so that more children will have a caring role model and friend. Become a mentor...call Tracy Mumma at 301-739-4711, Email her at mentor.bbbswcmd.org or visit them on the Web at www.bbbswcmd.org.
This is your chance to help your community. This is your chance to put a little "magic" into a child's life.