Herald Journal Howard Lake-Waverly Herald, March 11, 2002

Looking for big brothers, big sisters

By Lynda Jensen

Those familiar with the organization Big Brothers, Big Sisters will be interested to know it will be arriving in Wright County.

Big Brothers, Big Sisters is a mentoring program that matches adults with youth ages 7 and 15 years, said Case Manager Heather Wynia.

BBBS is also accepting interested Winsted participants in the Howard Lake-Waverly-Winsted district area, Wynia said.

The organization has a reputation for making a huge difference to these children, especially with its track record in the metro area, she said.

Many children are from single parent homes or have issues dealing with low self worth, Wynia said.

However, this is not the case with all the youth. Some are from two parent homes as well, she said.

"We believe that every child needs additional role models," she said.

The adult volunteer acts as a mentor, friend, and role model for the child, spending about two to four times a month together, she said.

The minimum commitment for adults is one year, although some are known to continue for several years, she said. The longest span she knows of is eight years, she added.

Children matched through the Big Brothers, Big Sisters program are 46 percent less likely to start using drugs, 52 percent less likely to skip school, and 33 percent less likely to initiate fights, according to a recent independent study, Wynia said.

Adult volunteers are carefully screened during the process, and young girls are not paired with men, she said.

The organization will be introduced to Wright County due to $30,000 funding for two years from the Wright County Family Services Collaborative, which is facilitated by Shirley Olson at the HLWW school district.

The collaborative looked for a good mentoring program last year, Olson said.

BBBS was chosen out of eight mentoring programs by the collaborative to work with, she said.

The Big Brothers, Big Sisters program joins a school mentoring program called Laker Buddies.

In the Laker Buddies program, high school students are paired with kindergarten to third graders, Olson said.

"We highly support this concept," said HLWW Supt. Riley Hoheisel, referring to the school district's position. "The real purpose of the collaborative is to reduce out of home placements."

How it works

The process begins when contact is made, and an application filled out, Wynia said.

The child's name is placed on a list for Wright County. It is not a first-come, first serve basis, since matches are carefully made according to the age, child's needs, and volunteer availability, Wynia said.

Next, a representative is sent to the participant's home for an interview with a prospective volunteer.

The final decision about the match is up to the "big" and "little" participants.

The last step in the process is when the two are brought together at the child's house for a match meeting.

BBBS makes monthly phone calls to check on the match progress during the first year, and quarterly calls after that, she said.

The Minnesota chapter of BBBS was founded in 1920, and is affiliated with the Big Brothers, Big Sisters of America, and the Greater Twin Cities United Way.

'Big' and 'little' participants needed

No special skills or experience with children are needed to become an adult sponsor for Big Brothers, Big Sisters, Case Manager Heather Wynia said. Volunteers are encouraged to spend time, and not necessarily money, on the child, she said.

So far, two youths and two adults were recruited for Wright County, Wynia said. A kick off party will be conducted in May, she added.

Many clubs and businesses donate tickets and other gifts to the BBBS ­ such as a recent donation of 40 Timberwolves tickets ­ and these are given to participants for their use.

Big Brothers, Big Sisters is looking for both "big" and "little" participants in the Howard Lake, Waverly, and Winsted areas, Shirley Olson of the HLWW collaborative said. Winsted is being added to the service group because it is part of the HLWW school district.

The demand for adult volunteers is usually much greater, and sometimes causes long waiting lists of children in the metro area, Wynia said. The average volunteer is single, and between 19 and 25 years old.

Those in Wright County interested in joining may call Shirley Olson at (320) 543-3471, or Heather Wynia at (612) 381-2693. E-mails may also be sent to hwynia@bbbsmpls.org. For additional information via the Internet, contact www.bbbsmpls.org.

"A hundred years from now, it will not matter what my bank account was, the sort of house I lived in, or the kind of car I drove. But the world may be a better place because I was important in the life of a child." - BBBS literature

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