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Friday, 16 December 2016 09:29

Buddy system: Big Brothers Big Sisters finds new ways to connect adults and young people

Written by  Dennis Hines
Rock County Sheriff's Deputy Ross Wenger participates in the Big Brothers Big Sisters of Rock, Walworth and Jefferson Counties' lunch buddies program. He met his "little brother" last week during the lunch period at Wilson Elementary School in Janesville. Rock County Sheriff's Deputy Ross Wenger participates in the Big Brothers Big Sisters of Rock, Walworth and Jefferson Counties' lunch buddies program. He met his "little brother" last week during the lunch period at Wilson Elementary School in Janesville. Terry Mayer

STATELINE NEWS -- About 75 children currently are on the waiting list for Big Brothers Big Sisters, but a variety of innovative new program hopes to match those kids with mentors.

Big Brothers Big Sisters of Rock, Walworth and Jefferson counties is gearing up its Bigs in Blue program following a national TV rollout.

The group also has formed partnerships with the Beloit College softball team and the Janesville Boys & Girls Club.

Five officers in Rock County are involved with the Bigs in Blue program, and four officers in Jefferson County have applied to become involved, according to Pam Carper, executive director for the Delavan-based local Big Brothers Big Sisters.

Officers come from the Rock County Sheriff’s Office and Beloit and Janesville police departments.

Carper said they plan to launch the program in Walworth County early next year.

The program was launched in the fall, and about 20 affiliated agencies have become involved. The national rollout came in September during a segment on the “Today Show” on NBC.

It’s another opportunity for the organization to attract more mentors for children who are in need of a “big brother” or “big sister,” Carper said.

“There are a number of ways our agency recruits volunteers,” Carper said. “It’s a one-on-one mentoring program. We need a mentor for every child we help. We saw the value of having an officer involved in a child’s life.”

Deputy Ross Wenger participates in the lunch buddies program. He met his “little brother” last week at Wilson Elementary School in Janesville.

They’ll typically meet once a week during the school year.

Officers also can get involved in a community based program in which they participate in different activities with the child for about six to eight hours during the month.

“The lunch buddies program is a site-based program. The officer helps the child with their homework or plays games with them during their recess period,” Carper said. “With the community-based program, they may go biking or fishing with them. It’s whatever they decide to do together.”

Carper said the Bigs in Blue program benefits the officers and the children.

“Any partnership is beneficial to the child. It gives them someone special to have in their lives,” Carper said. “The fact that (the mentors) are law enforcement officers just adds to that. It gives the officers an opportunity to volunteer. The officers get a great deal just being there for the child. A lot of our volunteers say they get more out of it than the child does because it helps them feel special.”

Learning in the community

Members of law enforcement aren’t the only volunteers in uniform to make a commitment to mentoring young boys and girls.

Members of the Beloit College softball team aren’t only hitting home runs on the field but also off the field as mentors to young children.

Several members of the team recently became big sisters, Carper said.

“Beloit College invited us to their fall campus activities fair, and we were able to talk to any student that came to the fair,” Carper said. “The students can participate in the lunch buddies program or the community-based program. Many members of the softball team have offered to be big sisters, so we have a wonderful base of volunteers.”

Megan Muthupandiyan, program coordinator at Beloit College, said several students have expressed an interest in becoming involved with Big Brothers Big Sisters. She said the college often encourages students to become involved with the community.

“The softball team has become involved, and several other students have shown an interest, but they haven’t made a commitment yet,” Muthupandiyan said. “It’s a big commitment, so they want to see if they are able to make that big of a commitment.

“Beloit College has a lot of community partners. We want to encourage students to get out into the community when they’re out of the classroom,” Muthupandiyan said. “We help to broker that partnership. A lot of students are reluctant (to become involved with Big Brothers Big Sisters) because of the application process and the long background checks. We want to help facilitate that and help with the application process. We want to know who’s partnering with whom. We generally ask students to reach out to the Campus Community Outreach Center if they want to volunteer, so we can help broker that relationship.”

Muthupandiyan said being involved with Big Brothers Big Sisters and other programs can be a learning experience for the students.

“Students develop critical thinking skills and have a stronger sense of their individuality with interaction and involvement in the community,” Muthupandiyan said. “Young adults who work with children seem to have a profound effect on the kids.”

Mentoring one-on-one

Big Brothers also recently formed a partnership with the Janesville Boys & Girls Club and hopes to connect with the Stateline Boys & Girls Club in 2017.

Jenny Sliker, executive director of the Janesville Boys & Girls Club, said the mentors meet with their little brother or little sister once a week at the Janesville location.

“All of our staff meets one-on-one with a child. We have eight staff members but lots of kids,” Sliker said. “So, this allows us to serve more kids.”

Sliker said the partnership also gives the Big Brothers Big Sisters mentors another place to meet with their “little.” She said some police officers who are involved with the Bigs in Blue program meet with their “little” at the Boys & Girls Club.

“It’s similar to the lunch buddies program. Some mentors can’t meet with their little at their school, so they can come to the Boys & Girls Club and work with their child,” Sliker said. “They can come here and meet in a safe environment.”

Sliker said, while at the Boys & Girls Club, mentors can participate in various activities with their little, such as playing games, working on crafting projects, assisting with their homework or working with them at the computer lab.

“Some of the bigs bring in their own projects to work on with the kids,” Sliker said. “If the weather is nice, they can go for a walk. We have a kitchen, so sometimes they will work on a cooking project or they can just visit with the child and get to know them better and have some bonding time.”

Carper said the program has about 75 children on the waiting list in the three-county area, so they could use more mentors.

“We would love to have more Beloit College students involved. The young children can often relate to the college students,” Carper said. “We also would love to have more officers involved. If we had officers involved from every department, we would be well served.”

Carper said the number of children involved has remained steady over the years.

“We always fluctuate when it comes to the number of children,” Carper said. “The number of children needing the program increases on a regular basis. We have found more ways of attracting volunteers, so the number of volunteers has steadily increased.”

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