Caloosa Belle

Big Brother and Big Sisters of America are in LaBelle

The Big Brothers and Big Sisters of America’s mission is to “Provide children facing adversity with strong and enduring, professionally supported one-to-one relationships that change their lives for the better, forever.”

Many people may not realize that Hendry County has a Big Brothers Big Sisters of America local agency because they do not, as of now, have a physical office location in Hendry County. Hendry County actually does have coverage through the Lee County/Fort Myers Big Brothers Big Sisters of the Sun Coast agency and they govern their business locally at our United Way office.

Because of the lack of awareness of their presence the organization has had a bit of a slow start here in Hendry County and so when I met with the program’s Development Director Aimee McLaughlin and Mentor Manager Susan Alexander (who is also the coordinator of a sub program called Beyond School Walls) I asked what needed to happen to build the program in our area.

“We’re most in need of volunteers to become Big Brothers and Big Sisters,” said McLaughlin.

To qualify for a “Big” you have to be eighteen years old or older, undergo an extensive interview, a criminal background check, and driver license check. “If everything checks out and the person is willing, there are two kinds of mentors,” Aimee added.

The two types of mentors are community based mentors and school based mentors.

The community based mentors take their “Little” out into the community and do fun things with them, like play ball, fish, or other activities. The school based program pairs a “Big” with a (primarily) elementary school aged child in one of the Hendry County Schools to come once a week to spend an hour with their “Little” and work on homework, reading, or whatever needs the child’s teacher feels could help.

“The second part of that, is that we need the kids; Although we do get a lot of referrals through the schools. The only requirement is that they come from a single parent family or are from a family where one of the parents is out of the home a lot; so if one parent is gone a lot – traveling for work, that would count,” Aimee told me.

“The age range for “Littles” is six to eighteen years old,” she added.

“Lastly, we need sponsorship. We really don’t have a lot of sponsors from Hendry County. I would love to see a local business step up and sponsor an event or sponsor a couple of matches,” said McLaughlin.

The cost of an average match (matching a “Big” to a “Little”) is $1,400; which includes the recruiting, interviewing, screening, and training processes as well as ongoing education, keeping up with all activity, and other costs incurred throughout one full year in the program.

Each match rests under the watchful eye of a mentor who will periodically call the family and the schools to check in and see how the relationship with the match is going as well as update the sponsor so that they know the status of the match they sponsored. “There is a lot of work that goes into being a mentor and that’s why the cost of the match is what it is,” said Aimee. “So, I would love to see a local Hendry County business step up and sponsor a match. The only funding we get right now specifically from Hendry County is through the United Way. Those are our three needs right now in Hendry County.”

There are other ways for businesses to get involved with the BBBS program as Susan Alexander was telling me about her project “Beyond School Walls.”

“In this program we take, on average, fifteen kids from high school and match them up with fifteen mentors from a corporation. Once a month they go and spend four hours of the day with their mentor,” Susan said. “We have scheduled activities that we do, prepping them for college, trade school, job, or something after high school. We work on goal setting, presentations, career mapping and all sorts of things. And then (after the activities) they spend about an hour shadowing their mentor,” she added. “We would love to see one of these happen in LaBelle.”

The pre-requisite to be involved in the Beyond School Walls program is that the organization be a corporation such as a bank, or hotel, or any corporation large enough to support fifteen mentors during work hours.

The students would be, again, ‘at risk’ students chosen from LaBelle High School.

If you are a person who would like to know more about volunteering to become a “Big”, if you’re a business that is interested in sponsoring a match between a “Big” and a “Little”, or if you are interested in nominating a child to be a “Little” please visit the Big Brothers Big Sisters of America of the Sun Coast website at www.bbbssun.org or call Aimee McLaughlin at (239) 288-4224.