Volunteering that makes a difference right here
"I've been dancing since I was three."
"That's the really hard part."
"I just make up my own songs or sometimes I hum."
"I can't sing, but I do it anyway."
"I do that all the time."
"I sing to the radio while I'm driving."
"Sometimes I can't get a song out of my head."
"Me too, sometimes for days."
Emily describes herself as shy, smart and fast. She is 10 years old. She likes to bake cakes and lick coconut pecan frosting off the spoon.
Ivy Halvorson considers herself funny, not really a math person and would order pineapple pizza for her last meal. Ivy is 17 years old.
Ivy and Emily are part of a new Big Brother Big Sister (BBBS) program in New Richmond. It is different from the existing program in that they meet on-site at Hillside Elementary School once a week for about an hour. New Richmond High School students were alerted to the opportunity to become a Big to an elementary student in the fall of 2017. Bigs were interviewed and communicated with over the summer and matches were assigned at the beginning of this school year.
"I was excited about the possibility of bringing BBBS to Hillside. I've always had interest in the program, and implementing the school-based model was a great way to bring it to our students without their families having to worry about coordinating schedules and transportation outside of the school day. I'm really happy with the way the program has developed throughout its first year! Bigs have done a great job holding consistent meetings with their Littles, and I know our students have really enjoyed getting to know their Bigs," said Hillside Elementary School Counselor Allison Youderian.
Heidi Herron, Regional Director for Community Development for BBBS of Northwestern Wisconsin, was a driving force behind the new school-based program.
"Our partnership with the school district has been fantastic! With their support, Big Brothers Big Sisters of Northwestern Wisconsin has been able to make 17 total site-based matches this year. Sixteen of them are still active and we anticipate them continuing into the fall. We are currently in the process of receiving high school Big applications and are looking forward to interviewing and matching even more students in the fall," said Herron.
Halvorson is a junior at New Richmond High School. She first heard about the BBBS opportunity in the daily announcements.
"Going into it, I had no idea of what I was doing. I've never done anything like it before. I wanted to step outside of my comfort zone and just try it," said Halvorson.
Emily is a sixth grader at Hillside Elementary.
"My mom just wanted to put me in BBBS to see if I would like it and hang more with my big sister," said Emily.
Maybe as a sign of the good fortune to come, many more high school students signed up than there were Littles to match up with.
Kind of like in their relationship, as Emily's confidence grew during interview, she opened up.
Both Emily and Halvorson went through an extensive interview process during which a representative from BBBS created a profile of who they are, family life, siblings, likes and dislikes, interests, hobbies, school life, all of which eventually lead to their match.
"I was nervous," remembered Emily.
"I could tell that we were a little nervous at first just because we'd never met each other. We had these little magnets with our names and birthdays on them and I noticed Emily had just had her birthday. We just kind of clicked," remembered Halvorson.
Like the 16 other matches, Halvorson and Emily find time to meet each week during lunch or recess or a study period. They stay on school property making use of the library, cafeteria, gym, or just an open office to talk, play games and share stories as they build trust and strengthen their relationship.
In 20 minutes (during the interview), they never stopped smiling.
Halvorson likes to talk, Emily not so much. Emily likes to bake, Halvorson not so much. They both like to play board games and in particular Connect 4 Launchers. They also really like to play the card game, Would You Rather, a truth or dare kind of scenario that asks "funny weird" questions and has been responsible for lots of laughing and some good conversations.
"We like to play that a lot. We both kind of discovered it together," said Halvorson.
Emily likes to draw, she likes to shop and she is a little apprehensive about going into middle school. She also thought Halvorson would have brown hair and be taller.
Halvorson works a lot baby sitting and as a receptionist at Great Clips. According to her, they talked each other's ears off after Christmas break. They also shared their holiday traditions, Halvorson's family pajamas and Emily's 12 grapes of luck.
Halvorson's been dancing since she was 3 and Emily likes to dance, a lot, but she's more self taught. They actually haven't danced together yet, they're waiting until they have the right song (see opening exchange).
Emily likes to run, fast. She competed in the 800 at the annual track and field day at the middle school last year. Halvorson likes to talk about how fast Emily runs although she is not sure she could make it all the way around the track herself.
Emily's favorite class is physical education. Halvorson's favorite class is AP Psychology.
"It's hard," said Halvorson.
She has been more than happy with her experience as a Big.
"There's a lot more to it than just hanging out with a little kid just to do it. I was very open-minded about it going in. You learn a lot. I had no idea I would become this close with my Little," said Halvorson.
Emily would recommend other kids try BBBS.
"If you were an only child you would have like a big brother or big sister to hang out with. Or if you have younger siblings you would have someone bigger to hang out with," said Emily.
Oh, and for her last meal, Emily would have tacos.
"I use meat, deer meat sometimes, with cilantro, tomatoes, with cheese, mozzarella, onions and make-me-cry sauce. I can eat like four. My mom makes the sauce. It has a few peppers in it," said Emily.
Ron is a divorced dad raising two daughters on his own full-time. He found BBBS by word of mouth from his friends. His oldest daughter met her Big seven years ago and his youngest met her Big six years ago.
"I was a divorced single parent, raising two daughters full-time from the ages of 5 and 7. I was looking to find my daughters a positive female role model and mentor. I was told about the BBBS program so I made the call," said Ron.
Ron found the BBBS staff friendly and professional and was impressed with how hard they worked to find the right Bigs for his daughters.
"I felt comfortable with the Bigs they chose and safe because of the background checks BBBS performs on all Bigs," said Ron.
As is the case with all matches, BBBS conducts match reviews monthly speaking not only with the Big and Little but also the Little's parents. Ron will be the first to tell you what a positive experience BBBS has been first for his daughters but also for himself.
"Both my girls' Bigs are wonderful and I enjoy talking with them. I never had a complaint nor concern. It's been very positive for myself and my daughters. My oldest daughter enjoyed the years of time she spent with her Big and even though she is now 19, and no longer in the program, she and her Big still stay in contact and spend time together. My 17-year-old, even though she has a busy schedule, spends time together with her Big regularly whether it's going to a Twins game, lunch or them just doing some baking. It's been great! I would highly recommend the BBBS program," said Ron.
If you find these stories inspiring, you can do more than just read about them.
According to Herron, New Richmond currently has 25 matches, nine in the community-based program and 16 in the site-based program at Hillside Elementary. There are currently nine children who have inquired or are on the waiting list for a Big in New Richmond.
"Our mission is to provide children facing adversity with strong and enduring, professionally supported 1-to-1 relationships that change their lives for the better, forever. Children and families that seek the services of Big Brothers Big Sisters reflect the most vulnerable citizens in our community and benefit from that extra focused attention of a caring mentor," said Herron.
Volunteers are asked to commit a minimum of one year to the program and to spend an average of one hour per week with a child. Consistency is important to the children and studies have shown that impact on the child is greatest after at least one year with a mentor. The focus is on positively impacting the lives of children and this occurs through a consistent, but minimal, time commitment from volunteers.
If you are interested in becoming a Big, visit www.bbbsnw.org to fill out an online application. You can also call the BBBS office at 715-835-0161.
There is an exceptional opportunity to meet the BBBS family on May 4, 2018 at Gibby's Lanes in New Richmond. The Annual Bowl for Kids' Sake fundraiser is still accepting teams. This year's theme, "The Great Outdoors," promises to deliver some thought provoking costumes along with a ton of fun. Do not delay, for questions and to find out how to register your team visit Bowl For Kids Sake online at: https://www.bbbsnw.org/bfks/