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Big Brothers Big Sisters: Mentoring the game of life

After waiting for three years, Zac met his Big Brother Dana and it has been a sweet success ever since. (Photo by Tom Lindfors),1 / 2
On Friday, March 31, BBBS will hold it's second annual Bowl for Kid's Sake fundraiser at Gibby's Lanes starting at 5:30 p.m. (Photo Submitted)2 / 2

Whether you are frustrated with the direction the country is headed in or still celebrating the unexpected victory and ensuing unorthodox leadership, the place you can make the biggest difference day-to-day is in your own backyard. You can impact one of those opportunities, a need right here in New Richmond, by volunteering one hour of your time each week.

Big Brothers Big Sisters (BBBS) matches adult volunteers with kids who need a mentor for one hour a week.   

“Mentoring equips kids with courage to face the world,” said Heidi Herron, Regional Director of Community Development for Big Brothers Big Sisters of Northwestern Wisconsin (BBBSNW).

“We increased our matches this past year in New Richmond by 20 percent. Last year we had 10 matches. This year we have 12. That’s two more lives that are changed forever. Our immediate goal is to have 15 matches in New Richmond in the next couple months. There are 80 kids on the waiting list which includes New Richmond, Somerset, Hammond and Roberts. Right now we have three volunteers pending matches. Finding the kids is never the problem. Finding the Bigs, the volunteers, is the challenge,” said Herron.

Matching Bigs with Littles

During the intake process, BBBS staff conduct extensive interviews with both adults and children to build interest inventories and assess compatibility. Interested adults need to clear local, state and federal background checks to ensure the safety of children in the program. Bigs must be at least 18 years old while Littles can range from five to 18 years with most being of elementary and grade school age.

Bigs are asked to commit to spending a minimum of one year with their Little. Ideally the relationship requires a Big to spend at least one hour a week with their Little.

Relationships are highly individualized so schedules can be flexible. Bigs are matched with Littles based on mutual interests or complementary personality traits.

“The reality is, some of our kids wait so long to receive a Big that they phase out of the program before their match can happen or they withdraw their name because it takes too long to find somebody who is willing to be their Big. Sometimes a volunteer is looking for specific age child or gender or has a limited schedule. Being flexible and open makes the matching easier. One hour a week is all it takes,” explained Herron.

BBBS staff check in with Bigs, Littles and their parents after every visit to keep the lines of communication open and offer assistance whenever needed.

According to research, Littles are 52 percent less likely to skip school; 46 percent less likely to use illegal drugs; and 33 percent less likely to hit someone than their non-mentored peers.

A survey of adults who participated in the program as Littles found 90 percent agreed their Big made them feel better about themselves; 77 percent set higher goals than they would have on their own; and 65 percent say their Big helped them reach a higher level of education than they thought possible.

BBBS programs operate in one of two formats — site-based mentoring or community-based mentoring. New Richmond offers only community-based mentoring where Bigs meet with their Littles at various locations throughout the community to participate in activities together out in the community like fishing, crafts, going to movies, sharing meals, sports, and the arts.

With site-based mentoring, Bigs and LIttles meet at the same place, frequently school, each week. After meeting with Hillside Elementary School Principal Frank Norton, Herron believes New Richmond’s first site-based program could soon be a reality. Program staff from BBBSNW have been meeting with counselors at the New Richmond High School and Hillside Elementary School to explore the possibility of setting up a Lunch Buddies Program. Community service-oriented high school students could volunteer to meet with elementary students for an hour at lunch or recess each week. Similar programs are already working in Hudson and River Falls.

The experience of being a Big Brother or Big Sister at any age, but particularly as a younger person, can make a lasting impression. The benefits of instilling the volunteer ethic early on pays dividends later in life.

“When I look at our current volunteers and board members, I would say 30 to 40 percent of them were former Big Brothers or Sisters themselves. One of our newest Bigs in New Richmond is a young man that started out as a Big Brother in our site-based Friends Program at the UW River Falls. Littles would travel by bus to campus to meet up with their Bigs and do activities around campus. His name is Dana Derrick and that one hour a week made such an impact on him, that, after graduating and moving to New RIchmond where he has a business, he said, I want to keep doing this,” said Herron.

Bowl for Kids’ Sake

On Friday, March 31, BBBS will hold its second annual  Bowl for Kids’ Sake fundraiser at Gibby’s Lanes.

“They were just amazing last year. Jamie and his whole crew were really, really helpful. They opened up the whole space for us and were incredible hosts.”

Get your grass skirts and coconuts ready for this year’s theme, Aloha Lanes, a Hawaiian Luau.

Teams consist of six bowlers and can compete for prestige and prizes in either the Business or Friends & Family Challenge.   

“Last year we had nine teams compete. We’re hoping for 12 teams this year so we can use all of the lanes at Gibby’s,” said Herron.

Bowlers are asked to try to raise $100 each, so for a team of four, $400, a team of six, $600. Amongst the teams that have signed up so far are, Bremer Bank, RCU, two teams from New Richmond High School, Family Fresh, New Richmond Rotary Club, and the New Richmond News. Some of this year’s sponsors include Kristo Orthodontics, New Richmond Kiwanis Club, Benck Mechanical, Bernard’s, Federal Foam Technologies, First National Community Bank, PCM Global Solutions, Royal Credit Union, WESTconsin Credit Union, Westfields Hospital, Xcel Energy, Tjader & Highstrom Utility Services, and Wisconsin Truck Corp.

“We are just 60 percent of the way to our fundraising goal of $7,400,” Herron said.

Bowling commences at 5:30 p.m. on the 31st featuring food, music and prizes at Gibby’s.

To register a team or sign up as an individual, contact Katie Pierce at email Katie.Pierce@nbbbsnw.org or by phone at 715-381-7289. You can also register online at www.bbbsnw.org.

Little to Big

Dana Derrick was introduced to the Big Brothers program while he was a student at UW-River Falls. He participated in the site-based Friends Program where Littles would travel by bus to campus to meet up with their Bigs, student volunteers,  and participate in activities around campus together. That one hour a week experience made such an impression on him, that after graduating and moving to New RIchmond where he has a business, he volunteered again, this time as a Big, in New Richmond’s community-based mentoring program where he met his Little, Zac.

Zac and Dana showed up at the library before heading over to Ready Randy’s to share their story with members of the Kiwanis Club.

“We began at the beginning of the school year, well actually July,” said Dana.

“And I’ve been waiting for this for like three years,” added Zac.

It’s just Zac, his older sister and his mom. His older sister got a Big right away. Her positive experience encouraged Zac to hold on until Dana volunteered to become his big. Zac’s 10 now and a ball of fidgeting energy clutching a handful of Pokemon cards.

“I was really happy because I’d been waiting so long,” said Zac.

After comparing interests, Zac and Dana met for the first time at the library, coincidentally.

“I was kind of nervous maybe. It also feels kind of awkward,” recalled Zac.

“It was actually right at this table, wasn’t it? It’s like meeting a brother you never met. You don’t really know what to expect, but you’re excited for it,” said Dana.

Zac’s dedication to his Pokemon collection, over 1,000 cards, has rubbed off on Dana.

“I bought my first pack of Pokemon cards in like seven years. It’s a lot different than I remember,” said Dana.

Beside their ongoing Pokemon obsession, Zac says he likes going to the park and swimming at the Centre with Dana and is looking forward to going together to see the new Lego Batman movie. They made a trip to see the Ice Castle in Stillwater, but their attempt to go bowling together got thwarted by league night forcing them to go to Plan B, playing the claw machine for 45 minutes — not necessarily a disaster in Zac’s eyes.

“We almost won a phone,” added Zac.

Dana tried to get Zac to admit some improvement on his last two report cards, which he evaded by copping to already being a genius.

“Yea, I kind of already was,” admits Zac.

When Zac learns that he and Dana will be telling their story and answering questions in front of an audience at Ready Randy’s, he recalls how he broke the ice the last time he faced an audience in third grade.

“If you count a third grade magic thing. But I only have my cards tonight,” said Zac.

Dana shared a preview of his story and why he became a Big Brother.

“At first I got into it because I had a pretty decent big brother, a biological brother growing up, and I was wondering what it would be like to not have him. That’s what drew me into this. Being on the backside of having done this for a while, I got into doing it for him [Zac], but I realized, selfishly, I get a lot out of this,” said Dana.

Though they are required to meet for just an hour a week, Zac would like to change the rules.

“We want to extend the time to most of the day,” added Zac.

Zac and Dana seem comfortable together and obviously enjoy their time. They are apparently three hours into a game of Life, which they revisit when they have time, and have plans to attempt bowling again. Zac explained why he appreciates Dana.

“Probably hanging out with another guy because I really never knew who my dad was because my parents were divorced like probably around before I was born, and I don’t remember who my dad is. So I’m the only boy in my house,” said Zac.

When asked if he would recommend having a Big Brother to other kids, Zac endorsed the idea.

“Definitely do it because it’s a fun opportunity and you can do stuff you probably won’t get to do sometimes,” said Zac.

Dana also endorses the idea and hopes more men will find time to become mentors.

“The best way to help — donate one hour a week. It’s not that hard, one less TV episode, one less a lot of things, to change someone’s life,” said Dana.

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