Big Brothers Big Sisters of SWLA
By Nikki Sue Alston
Anywhere you look in Lake Charles you can see signs of big business coming to town and news about the growth of our community is a buzz. Many don’t think about possible negative side effects of growth (like increased volume of traffic). Big Brothers Big Sisters’, not to be confused with the Boys & Girls Club, knows this growth is a double edge sword; both great for the community and economy but will likely increase the number of children and at-risk youth in our community. Big Brothers Big Sisters of SWLA matches at risk youth (ages 6-18) with carefully selected mentors. Their mission is “to provide children facing adversity with strong and enduring, professionally-supported, one-on-one relationships that change their lives for the better, forever”.
FOREVER... I'll let that sink in for a moment.
Still Sinking In?
A huge difference between Big Brothers Big Sisters’ programs and others is they focus on successful, long-term mentoring. The network’s structures and systems focus on strengthening relationships so the matches endure and produce successful outcomes. Kids in the Big Brothers Big Sisters’ programs perform better and are less likely to skip school, more likely to avoid risky or unhealthy behaviors, and have higher self-esteem and aspirations. Their programs are open to all children of all ethnic backgrounds and family income levels, although they focus on the 42% of children in Louisiana living in single parent households, and the 25% of children living in poverty. Those are critical risk factors which contribute to the estimated poor outcomes of the children of Louisiana.
Of the kids involved in our area:
• 70% participate in free and reduced lunches
• 90% are from single parent/or other living situation households
• 9% have incarcerated parents
• 3% are referred through the local legal system
Big Brothers Big Sisters have several Site-Based and Community Mentoring opportunities. Each program matches children in elementary, middle and high school with mentors who spend a minimum of twice a month meeting with the children in a school setting. Many of us go out for lunch more often than the meager 2 days a month (I’ll admit I’m guilty), so having lunch with an at-risk youth doesn’t seem like much of a time sacrifice to me.
Community Based: traditional Big Brothers Big Sisters relationship. It’s all about one-to-one time spent with the Big and Little, doing things they enjoy. The agency requests a one year commitment and that the volunteer and child spend time together at least twice per month. But honestly, who doesn’t have 2-4 hours per month they can give to bond with a kid in our community.
Site-Based: mentors meet the Littles in a school setting. These programs include the Lunch Buddy Program, High School Mentoring Program, the Reading Readiness Program, and the Summer Mentoring Program.
The Lunch Buddy Program: mentors meet the child for lunch at school. They are able to visit, read a book, or focuses on class assignments.
The High School Mentoring Program: Allows high school sophomores and juniors to be matched with elementary school students for a supervised mentoring experience during the school day. They are taught lessons in self-esteem, conflict resolution, responsibility, empathy and citizenship. Matches are not required to have lunch together and each school has the authority to determine daily class periods which the students may participate with their volunteer.
The Reading Readiness Program: allows mentors to meet the child for a designated time during the school day. The mentor time to focus on reading in a one-to-one setting with the child.
Summer Mentoring Program: allows children who are matched and those on our waiting list an opportunity to receive tutoring in a summer program setting. Programs are designed to focus on academics with a minor portion allocated to recreation. Also, this allows current volunteers an opportunity to meet with their littles in a supervised setting with access to educational tools and recreational support.
In February of 2012, at the age of 9, Izabella was referred to the Lunch Buddy program by Izabella’s school counselor and her fourth grade teacher. They both saw a little girl that was struggling socially, academically, and personally. In her home life, she was missing a maternal figure and consistency, as her mother was incarcerated and her father was in and out of her life. Both her teacher and the counselor felt that Izabella needed to know that someone else in the world cared about her, her well-being, and her progress. She needed someone that would be there for her through all of her ups and downs.
Jo and Izabella were matched in October of 2012 and quickly formed a sincere and genuine bond that blossomed into a solid friendship. The match transferred from the Lunch Buddy program to the Community program in August of 2013 and they have been inseparable ever since. Jo stated, "I wouldn't have believed a lunch buddy match could have turned into something like this. I didn’t think I would be someone’s big sister after the Lunch Buddy Program, I felt I was too old to be someone’s big sister however; I wouldn’t have it any other way.”
The duo spends time together on a weekly basis participating in a range of activities that range from having lunch, attending church together, going to the movies, and even attending rock concerts. Izabella confides in Jo and often expresses how much she loves her.
Izabella now talks about the future and plans to graduate high school and start college. With a smile she says, “And I know that Ms. Jo will be right there cheering me on.”
I Salute Your Solution
Big Brothers Big Sisters of SWLA currently have 44 children on their waiting list, 30 of those are boys. They [BBBSofSWLA] are in desperate need of male volunteers. They have volunteer programs in the parishes of Allen, Beauregard, Calcasieu, Cameron, Jefferson Davis and Vernon, and as I hope you've read above; it doesn't take much time to make a huge difference in a local child's life. When you donate your time, you aren't just helping one child, you're investing in the future of our community ('cause the children are the future).
To start the superhero-application process please call (337) 478-5437 or visit http://www.bbbs-swla.net/
For our out-of-state readers, go to google.com and type the name of your city and Big Brothers Big Sisters program. We are pretty sure your local Big Bro Big Sis program needs help as well.
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