Wanted: ‘Bigs’ and ‘littles’ of all ages

The Big Brothers and Big Sisters organization serving North Big Horn County held a special open house on Monday night in Lovell for people interested in learning more about the program.

BBBS program director Jennifer Prentiss visits with 5-year-old Elijah Fuentes at a special open house held in Lovell on Monday evening. Patti Carpenter BBBS program director Jennifer Prentiss visits with 5-year-old Elijah Fuentes at a special open house held in Lovell on Monday evening. Patti Carpenter photo

Parents attended with their children and adults who were interested in becoming volunteers in the organization enjoyed light snacks, games and casual conversation. BBBS staff members were on hand to provide information about the program that matches adult volunteers, also known as “bigs,” with children, known as “littles,” who are in need of friendship and a little extra attention.

“All we ask for is one hour a week to change the life of a young person,” explained program director Jennifer Prentiss. “A lot of people think they have to stop their lives to do something like this. That’s not true at all. For example, some of these kids don’t have the opportunity at all to just spend time in the backyard gardening. So, if you’re gardening for the afternoon, have your “little: come along with you and teach them about gardening. If you’re going to the grocery store, take them along and teach them about nutrition. It doesn’t have to be something out of your ordinary routine.”

Prentiss pointed out that a lot of the children in the program don’t have the opportunities that many take for granted and would appreciate just spending time with someone who will listen and take an interest in them.

“A lot of these kids never get to go fishing or even go for a walk because of limited resources or because their parents have disabilities or other reasons that keep them from doing these activities with their kids,” said Prentiss.

There are many volunteer opportunities to participate in the program. To become a big sister or big brother requires a minimum of one hour a week and Prentiss asks for a commitment of a year. There is also a lunch buddy program where an adult can have lunch with a child at school once a week and numerous opportunities to volunteer in after-school programs and camps. All levels of involvement require an adult to undergo a complete background check including a fingerprint check.

“Our statistics show that once a match lasts a year or more, the child is less likely to do drugs, is less likely to exhibit risky behavior and more likely to go to college,” explained Prentiss. “The statistics are astronomical after that one year period of time.”

Brian Dickson of Lovell is a “lunch buddy” to a middle school student. He meets his young friend once a week for lunch. He says it takes about a half hour of his time. According to Prentiss the lunch buddy program is perfect for an active community member like Dickson who wants to participate in the program but has a limited amount of spare time.

“I started last year with a fifth grader and I ate lunch with him once a week,” explained Dickson. “He’s in middle school now and I am his lunch buddy again. We just have lunch and we sit and talk about fishing, schoolwork, what he wants to do when he grows up. We just kind of shoot the breeze. Our conversations aren’t really structured. I try to let him take the lead in our conversations.”

Although Dickson is technically “retired” he is on the town council, on many boards and attends state meetings, as well, but the meeting he looks forward to most of all is his lunch meeting with his “little” buddy at the local school cafeteria.

Dickson’s advice to others who are considering trying out the program is to “just do it.”

“It’s fun, it’s easy and it doesn’t take that much time,” he said. “It really makes a difference in a child’s life and it is worth doing.”

Prentiss pointed out that “bigs” don’t necessarily fit a certain profile.

“We have one big who is 86 years old,” she said. “She bakes cookies with her little. Then we have a 20-something male who is a fantastic big to a very active young boy. They go shooting, hunting, fishing and stuff like that. We have another big who takes her little to movies and to Zumba class with her.”

Prentiss added that some of the children have never been to a sporting event or to a shopping mall. Many are from underprivileged families.

“You don’t have to change what you are doing, you just have to bring someone with you,” she said. “It’s as simple as that.”

Parent Veronica Fuentes heard about the program and attended the event on Monday night to learn more about the program. Fuentes thought the program would be a great way for her and her children to meet people in the community.

“I personally believe that every child, regardless of their circumstances, can benefit from having another caring adult in their lives,” said Prentiss.

Amy Clucas has worked with the program for about a year. She recently became a big after one of the children in the program suggested she would be a good candidate for the program.

“As a community-based big, I can take my little to the movies or fishing or hiking or other fun stuff like that,” explained Clucas. “We can do things together that maybe the kids can’t do with their families because they are poor or for other reasons. It’s nice to be able to do this for someone. It’s rewarding to know that you can make a difference in a young person’s life.”

Clucas enjoys sharing some of the things she loves with her fifth-grade friend.

“I love to sing, I love to act and it’s wonderful to be able to share those things with her,” said Clucas.

According to Prentiss there are “littles” in Lovell, Cowley and other nearby areas who are looking for a “big.” At least a dozen of those children have been waiting for over a year. For more information about the program call 765-9303 or go to http://www.bbbsnwwy.com.

By Patti Carpenter