Big Brothers Big Sisters of the 7 Rivers Region
Sometimes all a child needs is a little consistency in their life. A standing date for fun. An adult they can rely on. This kind of relationship can do wonders, as Big Brothers Big Sisters of the 7 Rivers Region have proven time and again.
For the program’s youngsters, called Littles, it’s nice to look forward to their weekly session with their Bigs. Heather has enrolled both of her children, Noah and Isabella, in the program for this reason. Noah struggles with social anxiety, and spending time in the program has helped to get him out of his comfort zone. “That one day a week he knows he’s going to do something with his Bigs, often it’s the only time he goes out in public outside of school,” says Heather.
As a single mom working two jobs, Heather is grateful for the time her children spend going bowling, roller-skating, watching movies and playing basketball. “I look forward to those days because I know my kids are in good hands. It just feels good to know I can let them go out in the community, and I can be able to have mom time,” she says.
As much as Noah’s Bigs, Aiyanna and Nolan, have positively impacted his life, Noah has done the same for them. “We’ve learned how to learn about someone, how to get more inquisitive. We’re more mindful and pay closer attention,” says Aiyanna. She and Nolan, who are married, have always been big family people and were looking for a new volunteer opportunity. When Aiyanna heard a representative from Big Brothers Big Sisters speak on campus at UW-La Crosse, she was inspired. “It’s a great way to use our time and give back to the community.” She explained that the organization shares upcoming community events, so they never have a shortage of fun activities to do with Noah.
For Nolan, watching Noah develop new hobbies and interests has been the most rewarding. “When we started, Noah was bowling 50s and 60s, and the last time we went, he bowled his first 100-plus game, which was awesome.” Though Nolan often wishes for more time in a day, fitting Big Brothers Big Sisters into his busy schedule has been overwhelmingly worth it. “It is definitely a worthwhile endeavor. It isn’t a huge time commitment at all, and the Littles are benefiting greatly from the program.”
Eleven-year-old Fue, who has enjoyed being a Little for two years, likes that his Big, Blake, is funny and nice. He enjoys playing board games with Blake and going swimming at the YMCA. “He taught me not to be scared of stuff. He helps me to be brave,” says Fue, adding, “You get to meet new people that are in the program, and you get to try new things.”
Meeting Fue has been positive for Blake, too. When he moved back to the La Crosse area, he got involved in Big Brothers Big Sisters to replace the inner-city mentoring program he was a part of. Being paired with Fue since the summer of 2015 has been “a pretty good treat.” Culturally, Blake has learned a lot from Fue and his family, who are part of the Hmong community. “It’s been eye-opening to learn about his culture,” he says.
Blake also sees the importance of being a strong male figure in Fue’s life. Big Brothers Big Sisters is currently experiencing a shortage of Big Brothers, and Blake encourages other men to consider the impact they can make. “It’s a great opportunity to make a lasting difference in someone’s life who needs a role model,” he says. “You don’t have to be perfect. You have to be someone who is a consistent adult. That is a positive thing for a lot of these participants.”
That’s exactly what Dean was for Cory, back when Cory was a Little. As a hyperactive child who lost his father at age five, Cory embraced the chance to bond with a male figure. Dean also consistently gave Cory’s mother some time to herself. “I honestly think Dean gave my mother something much greater than anything he gave me,” Cory says. “I don’t think it would be a stretch for me to say that this program helped keep my mother and I together as a family.”
Inspired by Dean’s dedication to the program, Cory now volunteers with four Littles. “It is unfortunate to know the program is running low on Bigs, especially as someone who has experienced the difference this program can make,” he says. For some, the commitment (once a week for a year) can be daunting, but it’s nothing compared to the payout, says Cory. “That commitment could be something small in your eyes but could mean the world to your Little.”
Dean couldn’t agree more. “It gives the Little someone they can rely on and share successes and challenges with. It is a great opportunity to give back to the community we live in and help develop the youth we want to lead us into tomorrow.”
“We have about 150 kids on our waiting list,” says Ashley Santolin, Big Brothers Big Sisters community relations manager. She says becoming a Big doesn’t require any particular kind of experience. The most important requirement, aside from being at least 18 years old, is the desire to be a positive role model. Interviews are held to match a Big’s interests with Littles, and a background check is conducted.
Another way to support the organization is the Big Brothers Big Sisters “Catered for Kids’ Sake” event on March 2. The event features food from the best in local catering, live music, wine tasting and silent and live auctions, all benefiting the wonderful work Santolin and her Bigs do each day for the Littles of the community.
Ready to become a Big? Visit www.7riversbbbs.org or call (608) 782-2227.