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Group sees need for Big Brothers/Big Sisters program

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By Dave Taylor

The News-Democrat

A local committee is investigating the possibility of forming a Big Brothers/Big Sisters program in Carroll County. Area residents are invited to explore the role of mentors in the lives of local children at a meeting to be held at 6 p.m., Mon., May 4, at the Carroll County Extension Office. The purpose of forming an organization of this type would be to help children reach their potential through professionally supported one-on-one relationships with measurable impact.

According the national organization’s Web site, www.bbbsa.org, Big Brothers Big Sisters is a national network of affiliated agencies providing mentoring services to vulnerable children ages six through 18 in schools and communities. Environmental factors considered when identifying “at risk” children can include external factors—societal, family, or school—that make growing up more difficult; poor family relationships, poor academic progress, misconduct, children who have an incarcerated parent, and children not living with two parents.

Big Brothers Big Sisters of America is a congressionally chartered, national non-profit federation founded more than a century ago, according to www.bbbsa.org. Today, nearly 255,000 children are participating in mentoring programs in more than 700 affiliated agencies across the country.

“There are really some struggling stories here in our state and region,” according to the Rev. Chris White, pastor of First Baptist Church of Carrollton, as he addressed the Carroll County Chamber of Commerce meeting on Tuesday, April 14. White, along with Ron Gillespie and Carroll County Schools Superintendent Lisa James, has spent a considerable amount of time laying the foundation for what could become a Big Brothers Big Sisters agency in Carroll County. “Unless we have mentors to work with these young people, a lot of them won’t go to college and finish their education,” he said.

According to numbers from the 2000 census, nearly 31 percent of the adult population in Carroll County held neither high school nor equivalency diplomas. Children in these homes are at increased risk due to their parents’ likelihood of raising children on limited income, support and opportunities. The statistics revealed only 8.3 percent of Carroll County residents have a bachelor’s degree in 2000.

Mentors are important for first generation college or technical school students, White said. He used the experience of his own youth as an example. His parents separated when he was a child. He and three siblings were raised in Chicago by their mother. An adult couple spent a lot of time with him during his youth. Their interest helped motivate him and his siblings to become the first generation of their family to graduate from high school, he said.

“They were very committed to me and helped me see that there is more to life than just living in default mode,” White said.

White later joined the United States Marine Corps, finished college and entered the ministry. He is now writing his dissertation toward earning a doctorate.

“Growing up I had a real absence of solid adults. With that in my back pocket I realize that good friends can’t replace good solid adults. Looking back as an adult I realize how hard it is to get from where I was to where we want (at risk children) to be,” he said. “Big Brothers Big Sisters isn’t about replacing parents. You don’t replace Dad. You don’t replace Mom.

 “Big Brothers Big Sisters, like the Boy Scouts of America and the Girl Scouts of America, is a national organization,” White stressed. “You don’t have to make things up as you go. They already have the structure set up. We’d like to have something in place so that as volunteers get older and drop out others take their place and the machine keeps going.”

According to information found on the Big Brothers Big Sisters website, all affiliates subscribe to national norms for screening and orienting volunteers. All participants receive training. A study on the Big Brothers Big Sisters youth organization found that kids matched with a Big Brother or Big Sister are more confident, more likely to steer clear of drugs and alcohol, do better in school, get along better with their family and friends, and feel better about themselves.

“There is a supervisor or director who is paid to monitor the local program to keep an eye on the kids, their families and the sponsors to make certain there is accountability in all the structures,” White explained.

Local affiliates organize under a board of directors, executive director and case manager. The case manager allots one-half hour each week per child under his or her care, to include timely contact with the child, the child’s family and the adult mentor. The case manager orchestrates and monitors the match of child and adult mentor. The executive director oversees the total operation, including fundraising. The board of directors serves in an advisory role, according to information supplied by White.

Big Brothers Big Sisters of Jefferson County, in Madison, Ind., would serve as the local affiliate and umbrella for a Carroll County organization. The Jefferson County agency came into full operation in 1998 and currently serves about 90 children in Jefferson County, Ind.

Mentoring occurs in one of two scenarios: School based, where the mentor visits a child one hour per week at school and works on homework and other relationship building activities; and community based, where the mentor and child meet for two to three hours twice a month and pursue friendship through various activities outside school, such as fishing or hiking.

“Stress in the home is very real for many of our young people,” White said. What is needed to make the program a success are leaders for organization and support, and adult volunteers who are willing to grant time through a nine-month school cycle or a one-year commitment outside school for mentorship.

Interested persons may contact White at (502) 732-4396, Gillespie at (502) 525-7105 or James at (502) 732-7070.