By Michelle Howe
Cedar Rapids is fortunate to have great community support from many service organizations that meet some of the basic needs for struggling families and children. Big Brothers Big Sisters is familiar to many as one of these organizations. Studies have shown that participation in the Mentoring Program increases schoolwork performance as well as decreasing the likelihood of skipping school or substance abuse.
Big Brothers Big Sisters (BBBS) provides 1:1 mentoring support to children facing adversity in their lives. They create life-changing friendships by placing a caring, adult role model in children’s lives.
Children who enter the Big Brothers Big Sisters program don’t have to meet financial guidelines or come from a single-parent family, though many do. They and their adult mentors spend quality time together, with the “Bigs,” as the volunteers are called, serving as a consistent, positive force in the child’s life.
BBBS asks volunteers to join them for at least one year, with the average match lasting 31 months. Children can enter the program as early as age six. Typically, there are more children than volunteers, with nearly 100 children currently on the waiting list.
Adult mentors are carefully screened before being matched with “Littles (the children). The organization’s number one priority is the safety of the children. “Bigs” involved with the community-based program give at least four hours of their time per month. Library visits, grocery shopping and playing at a park are among typical activities, along with outings, such as sporting events and holiday parties offered by BBBS.
Bigs with the lunch buddy program give two hours per month. They eat lunch at the school and often go outside with their match during recess, play board games, read together or just talk.
Last year BBBS served nearly 700 children in the Linn, Jones and Benton county areas. After one year in the program, 84% of the children enrolled demonstrated educational success, 96% reduce their risky behavior and 89% improve their social skills.
One thing that is key to the agency’s long-lasting success is strong partnerships formed throughout the community. “Bigs in Blue is an example of partnering in new ways to create a stronger community,” said Linda Henecke, President & CEO of BBBS in Cedar Rapids & East Central Iowa. “We’re recruiting more police officers to join us as mentors and we are grateful for their support.”
One of those “Bigs in Blue” is Sgt. Matt Welsh with the CR Police Dept. Welsh and his Little Brother La’Marious recently celebrated two years of being matched! They started out in the lunch buddy program and after a year they transitioned into the community based program.
“When we first met, La’Marious was pretty shy. Over time he has really opened up to me. We share a lot of stories with each other and talk a lot about our families,” said Matt. “He is a great kid – always polite and respectful.”
Most recently, Matt and La’Marious have spent time playing mini golf, throwing the football around and having pizza together. To see more about their relationship, visit this link: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=F6lnTKxeYeA&app=desktop
Many people ask about how they can help BBBS out – there are three different ways: Give (Through one of our three annual fund-raisers.) Advocate (Help spread the word about us with friends, family, colleagues, etc.) Volunteer (Sign up to be a Big! And make a difference in the life of a local child.)
One of BBBS’ largest fundraisers is just around the corner! Bowl For Kids’ Sake takes place over the course of several days in January and February 2018. The focus for this year’s event places emphasis on the 700 children that are supported through the program “You Bowl, I Grow.” When people donate and bowl, the children in the program grow BIG in mind and spirit. Companies or individuals put together teams of 6 people to bowl and support the BBBS mission. It’s $75/bowler ($40/child) and that includes two games and shoe rental. Each bowling shift has door prizes, trivia games, lively music and FUN – it’s known as “Eastern Iowa’s largest bowling party!”
People interested in volunteering as a Big Brother or a Big Sister or who want to start a bowling team can call
(319)-377-8993 for more information, or visit: www.beabigcr.org.