Big Brothers Big Sisters recruiting volunteers
By Angie Landsverk
Efforts to recruit local mentors for the Big Brothers Big Sisters program continue.
“It’s been a year. We’re made some good progress. We’ve made a lot of matches, but there’s still a need,” said Andrew Whitman, the city of Waupaca’s recreation programmer.
In 2015, the city’s Parks and Recreation Department began working with Big Brothers Big Sisters of the Fox Valley Region and ThedaCare’s Waupaca Commuity Health Action Team to start a site-based program at the Waupaca Recreation Center.
The goal was to match 20 children with mentors, and there are currently 18 active matches, said Lori Altraide, the lead match specialist for Big Brothers Big Sisters of the Fox Valley Region.
“We still have 11 Little Brothers and Sisters who are ready to be matched in Waupaca,” she said.
While the focus was on establishing a site-based program, those interested in being mentors have the ability to choose between the site-based program at the recreation center or the community-based program.
In the site-based mentoring programs, volunteers and students meet at the recreation center once a week for about an hour.
Together, each Big (adult) and Little (student) decide when they want to meet there.
They have access to the entire center, including the gyms, kitchen, computers and pool table.
The Parks and Recreation Department offers the recreation center as the site to make it easier for those who are not sure what activities they want to do together.
“It’s been positive to see some of the matches coming here and using what we have to offer,” Whitman said. “I’ve seen some cooking, some doing crafts and some playing basketball.”
In the community-based program, the Bigs and Littles also meet on a weekly basis but may do so throughout the community.
“Some matches started outside based and then transferred to community based to have more options, like bowling, fishing, swimming but still use the rec center,” Altraide said. “It’s vital to have that as a centerpiece.”
She said the recreation center’s downtown location is convenient and that while matches may not meet there every week, they are using the facility.
The Big Brothers Big Sister of the Fox Valley Region serves Calumet, Outagamie, Waupaca and Winnebago counties, and its volunteers range in age from 15 1/2 to 90, Altraide said.
A child has to be at least 6 years old to be in the program and may be matched with someone until turning 14.
Children may remain in the program with the same mentor until they are 18 or graduate from high school.
Altraide said some children have been waiting more than a year to be matched with a mentor.
“We’re talking about an hour or two once per week,” she said of the time commitment. “It is not babysitting. It is having fun, incorporating what you like to do with a child. Sometimes kids don’t know what they like and need to be shown, exposed to things. It’s encouraging them to try new things.”
Mentoring improves parental trust, lowers truancy rates, decreases or avoids risky behaviors, lowers depression and increases social acceptance.
“Matches provide opportunities for growing and learning about things they have not learned about before. It’s building friendship skills, learning how to stand up for others,” Altraide said.
Building academic skills and being successful in school are also topics.
She said providing safe havens for children is important.
“As a community, we make it a safer place when we’re all taking care of the children,” Altraide said.
She witnesses Littles becoming volunteers in their communities after being part of the program and becoming mentors to younger children as well.
Boys may be matched with men or women. Girls may only be matched with women.
People may also mentor as Big Couples.
Those interested in becoming mentors may visit bbbsfvr.org to read more about the program and complete an application.
After the application is received, a staff member arranges an orientation and interview, Altraide said.
She said the screening process takes four to five weeks and involves a background check, talking to references, a check of the driving record and an assessment.
After gathering information from a Big and a Little, a match is made based on location, interests, personality and life experiences the mentor has had which may benefit the child, she said.
“Everyone has a story to tell,” Altraide said. “It’s really nice when you run into Littles later on and hear the success stories.”