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