Char-Koosta News

The Official Publication of the Flathead Nation online

March 11, 2010

High school students fill the roles of Big brothers, big sisters

By Lailani Upham

Ronan High School student Darian Leo is hugged by her BBBS "little" from Ronan Elementary. (Courtesy photo)
Ronan High School student Darian Leo is hugged by her BBBS "little" from Ronan Elementary. (Courtesy photo)

POLSON — Majority of the volunteers for The Big Brothers and Big Sisters of Lake County and the Flathead Reservation are high school students.

The Big Brothers and Big Sisters organization is often times confused with the Boys and Girls Club by the general public.

While both organizations help children, BBBS is set apart with individual relationship building.

The Boys and Girls Club is a neighborhood-based building program designed solely for youth programs and activities.

How the foundation began was in 1904, when a young New York City court clerk named Ernest Coulter saw more and more boys come through his courtroom. He believed caring adults could help many of these kids stay out of trouble, and he set out to find volunteers. By 1916, Big Brothers had spread to 96 cities across the country.

Around the same time, the members of Ladies of Charity were befriending girls who had come through the New York Children’s Court. The group later became Catholic Big Sisters.

Both groups worked independently until 1977, when Big Brothers of America and Big Sisters International joined forces and became Big Brothers Big Sisters of America.

Currently BBBS of Lake County and the Flathead Reservation have 80 matches mainly of high schools filling the mentor roles in elementary schools across the Reservation, according to Julia Williams, BBBS executive director.

“We are trying to recruit adults right now,” says Williams. Although high school students are making great impacts with the children Williams expressed the importance of gaining more adult mentors that will guarantee a lasting relationship.

One of the keys to the program’s success is the length of the relationship between the child and mentor. BBBS volunteers are asked to commit to a year. “We are limited with the high school student; some go on to college or something. The longer the match the stronger the impact,” she explained.

Darian Leo, a sophomore at Ronan High School is in her second year as a volunteer mentor for a first grader at Ronan Elementary. The students who are mentors or otherwise known as “bigs” take their lunch on the run and head straight to their respective schools to meet up with their “littles.”

The “bigs” have 45 minutes to spend with their “littles,” according to Williams.

When Leo first met her “little” she said she was very shy. But after four visits the first grader is now open to every thing. “Her favorite game is Candy Land and she asks me questions about everything,” Leo said. Leo said her “little” seems more open to other people since she met her.

BBBS matches children with strong, long-term mentors whose friendship and guidance help positively shape a child’s life and increase their likelihood of becoming healthy, productive adults, according to the BBBS web site.

Mentors provide references and undergo a background check then a personal interview with BBBS to determine how their interests match with a child.

A national research showed children participating in BBBS mentoring programs are 46 percent less likely to begin using illegal drugs, 27 percent less likely to begin using alcohol, and 52 percent less likely to skip school.

Another statistic according to the BBBS website, over 70 percent of children waiting for mentors are boys, but only three out of every 10 inquiries about volunteering come from men.

Two Eagle River School student Trevor Butterfly stands next to a happy and proud "little" from Pablo Elementary. (Courtesy photo)
Two Eagle River School student Trevor Butterfly stands next to a happy and proud "little" from Pablo Elementary. (Courtesy photo)

Two young men from Two Eagle River School admitted they began mentoring “littles” through word of mouth from other students at the school.

Trevor Butterfly, a junior at TERS, is in his first year of mentoring and found that he enjoys the friendship with the “little” brother. “He was shy at first,” Butterfly said, but his “little” broke through his shell and is playful and talkative.

Butterfly said, being a “big” caused him to step out of his comfort zone.

Two Eagle River School student Robert Howard with his "little" from Pablo Elementary happily pose together. (Courtesy photo)
Two Eagle River School student Robert Howard with his "little" from Pablo Elementary happily pose together. (Courtesy photo)

Robert Howard, TERS student is in his second year being a “big.” This year Howard is mentoring a new student. His student from the previous year went on to middle school in Ronan, he said. Howard feels it’s a natural role for him, being he has four younger brothers at home. Howard and his “little” play ball and “do whatever he wants to do,” he added.

Last Sunday, BBBS kicked-off their yearly “Bowling For Kids” fundraiser in Polson. The next event is scheduled for Sunday, April 11 at Lucky Strike Lanes in Ronan.

For more information or to donate to BBBS, please call Julia Williams at (406) 883-2150.

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