By Samantha Gillis
“At first it is going to be scary, and then it is going to be fun,” 10-year-old Baylee said in anticipation of her first time riding a horse.
“Once a horse came to our school, I don’t remember his name though,” said Baylee. Baylee is a little in the Big Brothers, Big Sisters organization. Elyse Achenbach, psychology senior, is Baylee’s big.
As the nation’s largest donor and volunteer supported mentoring network, BBBS makes meaningful, monitored matches between adult volunteers (“Bigs”) and children (“Littles”), ages 6 through 18, in communities across the country according to www.bbbs.org. BBBS was established in 1904 and is currently operates in 50 states and 12 countries. The Cowley County BBBS has 80 Littles waiting to be matched.
“We are always in need of volunteers,” said Julie Wilke, case manager for the site-based program. A child is referred to the program because they are either having behavioral issues, or a teacher, counselor, parent or adult believes they need a role model, said Wilke.
BBBS did a nationwide study from 1994 to 1995 with 950 Littles. Researchers discovered that after 18 months of spending time with their Bigs, the Little Brothers and Little Sisters, compared to those children not in the program, were:
• 46 percent less likely to begin using illegal drugs
• 27 percent less likely to begin using alcohol
• 52 percent less likely to skip school
• 33 percent less likely to hit someone
Wilke said, “It is rewarding to know you’ve helped out. In the college world you feel like you’ve got to get a degree and get a job and really there are bigger things out there.”
There are three different programs a Big can apply for. Community based, time spent in the community, is a two to four hours a week time commitment. The second is plus-match where the pair is allowed to do activities in school and in the community. This is a 30 minutes to an hour commitment. The last is site-based, where the pair is allowed to spend time while the Little is in school. This program asks for two to four hours.
“Typically people start with the site-based,” said Wilke.
Achenbach and Baylee started as a site-based but then moved to a plus-match. Last week they played Badminton, when asked if she was an all-star badminton player Baylee laughed.
“Psh, no,” she said.
“She’s learning,” said Achenbach.
The interview process is an intensive two hours. “But it is for the safety of the Little,” said Wilke. “We want to get to know you. We want to delve into your background, including your childhood, and some of the questions are kind of intimate.”
Bigs are also asked how they feel handling matter like gang issues, conflicts, belligerence, bed-wetting, handicaps and different types of abuse. “The Big needs to know they can be dealing with a handful of issues, although this isn’t always true,” said Wilke.
Both Bigs and Littles fill out a preference sheet. “You are matched based on how similar you are,” she said. Matches are not based on which Little has been waiting the longest. “It’s about compatibility and fostering a genuine relationship,” said Wilke. The Big also determines what age group they would prefer ranging from five to seventeen-years-old.
Even if one doesn’t feel as though they are good with kids or even like kids, they should test those presumptions.
“I never figured myself as a kid person,” said Achenbach. “I was working for BBBS when my boss suggested I become a Big. I was hesitant.” Now that Achenbach is a Big she thinks Baylee is actually teaching her more than she is teaching Baylee.
Thursday when they visited the horse ranch outside of town, Baylee helped groom her horse Coco and watched as she was saddled. Her eyes grew to the size of saucers as the horse was lead over to the mounting table where Baylee was standing. Baylee then stretched one leg over the Chicatique horse and mounted her. She situated herself on the saddle and soon they were off, well off to a dawdling pace around the barn.
“Baylee is very smart for her age,” said Achenbach.
She hadn’t been on the list long when she was matched up with Achenbach.
“It was not difficult to bring her out of her shell. She is very talkative, and definitely a people person,” said Achenbach.
After several laps Baylee paused and sighed in exhaustion. Achenbach asked her what she thought and she said, “Welp, it’s like riding a car.”
Achenbach shrugged her shoulders and said, “Yeah, a 1,000 pound furry car.”
For more information about being a Big please contact Wilke, or BBBS at (620) 221-7766 or by e-mail at email@example.com. Wilke can send an application, preference sheet and back ground checks to start the processes.
“The quicker you turn in your information and set-up an interview, the quicker we will match you,” said Wilke.
Samantha Gillis is a senior majoring in convergent journalism. You may e-mail her at firstname.lastname@example.org.