COMMUNITY SPOTLIGHT: A ‘big’ difference from just a ‘little’ time

By Joni Knott

Ashley Coleman(Big) with Ellie (child)

Ashley Coleman(Big) with Ellie (child)

“I have a little sister out at Lincoln Elementary,” Mert Mullins, Big Brothers Big Sisters ambassador for Huntington county, said. “We’ve been together since October.”

This big and little sister duo are not siblings, but, instead, a match made by Big Brothers Big Sisters—an organization that sets up mentoring relationships between children in need and adult volunteers.

“She is all excited about her birthday,” Mullins said. “[It] is in May, and she doesn’t let anyone forget it.”

The organization has been working to unite volunteers with children in need in various locations since it began in 1904. Today, Big Brothers Big Sisters has offices and programs in all 50 states and 12 countries abroad, including programs offered in Huntington, Ind.

“I have been involved for about five years.” Mullins said. “I try to go in and find out as much as I can about my little —whatever, she’s willing to share.”

This interest in the children and their hobbies helps them to feel valued and encourages them to make positive decisions. According to the Big Brothers Big Sisters website, 52 percent of students in Big Brothers Big Sisters programs are less likely to skip school and 46 percent are less likely to do illegal drugs.

“These kids are looking for direction; they are looking for someone to hang out with,” Eric Pulley, director of marketing and recruitment, said. “It can be anything as long as it is a positive experience for that child.”

Big Brothers Big Sisters offers two programs in Huntington county. Volunteers are welcomed for both.

The School Buddies program is offered in both Lincoln and Flint Springs Elementary Schools. Volunteers in this program go to the child’s school and spend quality time with him or her once a week during the lunch period for 30 to 45 minutes.

“So, instead of going to the cafeteria, they would go to a classroom, a media room, the library or something like that, with other bigs and littles,” Pulley said.

There the pair will eat lunch, read a book, play a game, put together a craft or just hang out.

“The main point is that volunteering once a week during the school year says that you’re important enough for me to show up once a week for 30 to 45 minutes,” Pulley said. “It means the world to these kids. It is sometimes the only stability other than the school that they have.”

Big Brothers Big Sisters also offers a community based program which is not limited to a school setting.

“You can pick them up at their house, and you go do things with them out in the community once or twice a month for a total of three to four hours” Pulley said. “Some bigs really enjoy it so they hang out a little bit more, but that’s all up to them.”

The School Buddies program is generally preferred for college students, especially if the student does not live in the Huntington county area.

“We ask that every volunteer plan on giving us a one year commitment,” Pulley said.

For the School Buddies program, this commitment is for a school year rather than a calendar year and usually matches up well with university class schedules.

“It’s a really good program for the [university] students,” Pulley said. “It’s a great resume builder and a phenomenal way for them to learn about the community and kids a bit more, so it seems to be a great partnership.”

Logo provided

Logo provided

Mert Mullins also emphasized the importance of young adults to the Big Brothers Big Sisters programs.

“Kids this age really look up to a mentor that’s college-aged,” she said. “You’re young, you’re cool, and you’re vibrant. You can probably come to their level a little easier than someone older.”

“We try to let [volunteers] know how easy it is and how much of a difference they can make with just a couple of hours a month” Pulley said.

Individuals interested in volunteering with Big Brothers Big Sisters are required to fill out an application, complete a short interview and undergo a basic background check to ensure the safety of the children.

“It seems like a big commitment because you’re talking about a child and helping to put a child on the path to success,” Pulley said. “What makes it not so much of a commitment, or a much smaller commitment than it seems, is that these kids don’t need anything in particular from you other than just your time. They just need to know that you care. That’s all they need.”

Information about volunteering can be found through Big Brothers Big Sisters’ northeastern Indiana website, www.bbbsnei.org, or by contacting the Fort Wayne office at 260-456-1600 and asking for either Monica Prabhakar or Eric Pulley in the marketing and recruitment department.

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