Archive for Thursday, April 17, 2008

Children in Eudora waiting for volunteers

April 17, 2008

There are a few cases where 10 of any one item is an alarming number - 10 ex-spouses, 10 snakes in your bed and so on.

In the case of the 10 children in the Eudora and Baldwin area who have been on the waiting list for Big Brothers Big Sisters of Douglas County, it seems like a number that should be quickly whittled away.

That hasn't been the case, though, as some children have waited for as long as two years to be paired with a volunteer.

Misconceptions could be the main reason behind what should be a much shorter wait.

Some potential volunteers are unaware that one need not spend a lot of money - if any at all - when spending time with their little brother or sister, who are referred to by staff members as "littles."

Stability is key

Executive Director of Big Brothers Big Sisters of Douglas County Patti Broyles said the main thing volunteers, or "bigs," provide is stability.

"You can pick them up and go to the grocery store and then cook dinner at your home - it's really about making them part of your life because those are experiences that they don't have on a regular basis," she said. "While you can pick them up and take them to do special things like going to the movies or going to the zoo, you don't have to. It's really just letting them spend time with you and get to know you and be a friend to you."

In the case that a big did decide to do something out of the ordinary with their little, many area organizations such as the Kansas University football and basketball teams, the Kansas City Royals and other area businesses have donated tickets or offer discounted prices.

"A lot of people who might not be able to be a big or donate financially to our program come through in other ways like that," Broyles said. "We also have many local businesses that are on what we call our discount list."

Some potential volunteers might not believe they have enough time to dedicate to the program. However, there are two levels of time commitment.

The lower level is the Bigs in School program, which consists of a big eating lunch with their little at school once a week for about 30-35 minutes.

The upper level of commitment is the community-based program, in which a big commits to spending from two to four hours a week with a little for one year.

Again, stability is the main benefit of asking bigs to make a yearlong commitment

"The child understands that person is not going to leave them, that person is going to see them through that year," Public relations associate Meg Hooper said. "That makes them (the child) more secure and more trusting of that volunteer and that helps them develop that friendship that is necessary."

Volunteers must be at least 18 years old, but they don't have to be young. Hooper said some older volunteers can better fit into a given child's life.

"Some of our best volunteers are in their 50s," Hooper said. "They are solid, they have a job, they aren't going to move away from the child. Those end up being some of the best matches that we have."

Broyles said some of the children in the program come from at-risk environments, which can be anything from single-parent homes to children who have a parent with a substance abuse problem.

However, some students simply need another adult in their life.

Playing matchmaker

After a child is recommended, case managers visit the child's home to conduct interviews with the child and parents.

"They try to get as much information and details about the situation so that can be shared with a volunteer so that when the matches care made there is enough to hold it together."

Likewise, when someone volunteers, background checks as well as interviews with four to five references are done. The paperwork takes about four to six weeks to complete.

Boys wait for an average of 10 months to be matched with someone, while girls wait about four months.

Males especially are needed because a majority of the children are boys. Hooper said many males think they don't do anything fun enough to merit volunteering, but she reiterated that just providing stability for the child is good enough.

"A lot of males in the community are not aware that on the weekend if you rake your yard and fix your truck - they don't think that would be a fun thing for a kid," Hooper said. "But there is some 8-year-old who would think that was the best thing ever."

Couples and families also are eligible.

The effect a volunteer can have on a child's life is profound. A recent study found that children who have a Big Brother or Big Sister mentor are:

¢ 46 percent less likely to begin using illegal drugs

¢ 27 percent less likely to begin using alcohol

¢ 52 percent less likely to skip school

¢ 37 percent less likely to skip a class

"If you have ever thought about becoming a friend to a child, now is the time," Broyles said.

To donate time or other resources, or for more information, call Big Brothers Big Sisters of Douglas County at



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