The Waupaca Recreation Center will become a site for the Big Brothers Big Sisters program in the fall.
“Our goal is at least 20 ‘Bigs.’ I think there’s an obvious need in our community for it. I think 20 is a good start, but I’m sure there are more than 20 needing mentoring,” said Andrew Whitman, the city’s recreation programmer.
In the program, those who volunteer are called “Bigs,” while the children being mentored are called “Littles.”
Waupaca’s Parks and Recreation Department is working with Big Brothers Big Sisters of the Fox Valley Region and ThedaCare’s Waupaca Community Health Action Team (CHAT) to start the program to coincide with the next school year.
Those interested in becoming involved as a “Big” are invited to a mentoring informational meeting, which will be held at 5:30 p.m. Tuesday, May 12, at the Waupaca Recreation Center, 407 School St.
The meeting will include an in-depth presentation about the program.
“There will also be a Big and a Little coming from the community to talk about how it affects them,” Whitman said.
In a site-based Big Brothers Big Sisters mentoring program, volunteers visit a site, where they are paired with a student on a one-to-one basis.
In this case, it will be the Waupaca Recreation Center, where they will meet once a week for about an hour.
The average length of site-based matches is 25 months, and Whitman said those who become involved in the program will have access to the entire recreation center.
That will include the gyms, kitchen, computers and pool table.
The volunteers will also be able to help the Littles with their homework and to play games and read books.
Waupaca Parks and Recreation Center staff and others in the community see a need for the mentoring of youth.
“I contacted Big Brothers Big Sisters sometime last year and asked how we can bring it here, because we see that need here,” Whitman said. “Some of the kids who are here just need someone to help them out.”
In Waupaca, 916 students, or 42 percent of the students, participate in the Free and Reduced Lunch Program.
Nineteen percent of Waupaca County’s children live in poverty, and 24 percent of those children are in single family households.
There are an estimated 67 homeless students in the Waupaca School District, and the district’s truancy rate is 5.8 percent, or 124 children.
In 2013, the Waupaca Police Department cited 31 youth for underage drinking.
During the 2011-12 school year, there were 12 alcohol-related suspensions or expulsions and 31 drug-related suspensions or expulsions.
Mentoring improves parental trust, lowers truancy rates, decreases or avoids risky behaviors, lowers depression and increases social acceptance.
Children who are matched are more likely to hold leadership positions in organizations.
In addition to the Park and Recreation Department seeing a need, those who attended a day-long program last fall about mental health also saw the need for mentors in the community.
As a result, Waupaca CHAT decided to donate money for an advertising campaign as a way to help spread the message about the upcoming informational meeting.
The campaign includes messages for social media.
“That message is that we need mentors. We need Bigs,” Whitman said.
He said one reason why they decided to do a site-based program at the rec center is because it targets the myth some have that they will run out of things to do with their “Little.”
“The whole building will be available,” Whitman said.
Those who attend the May 12 meeting and decide to become involved will next go through a process which includes an application, interview, background check, match and meeting.
Parents who want their children in the program sign them up for it.
“Big Brothers Big Sisters will do a good job of matching them with someone they feel has the same interests,” Whitman said. “I’m sure we can all find an hour (a week).”
He also said Big and Little matches will choose the day and time they want to meet. “It could be on the weekend,” Whitman said.
Those unable to attend the May 12 meeting may visit www.bbbsfvr.org for information about Big Brothers Big Sisters.