Big Brothers Big Sisters sets roots on campus

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Article published in the Sept. 23, 2012, issue of The Daily Eastern News.

For senior sociology major Annie Hedger, being a part of Big Brothers Big Sisters is just part of her busy routine.

She’s a college student, has a part-time job, interns at the Mid-Illinois Big Brothers Big Sisters in Charleston and has mentored a little sister for about a year and a half.

She is also president of the Big Brothers Big Sisters registered student organization, which just got the stamp of approval last spring, and she has big things planned.

“We started it last year officially, but since it was our first year, we didn’t know what we wanted to do, so we didn’t get much accomplished,” Hedger said.

This semester, they are getting it together. She said they want to focus on fundraising and service projects.

Four meetings are scheduled for the semester because each one should be straightforward and organized, Hedger said.

“We know exactly what we’re doing, what we’re going to do, the dates, times, everything,” Hedger said. “We don’t want to take a certain day out of everyone’s week. Everyone has busy schedules already.”

The first general information meeting is scheduled for 4 p.m. Monday in the Paris Room of the Martin Luther King Jr. University Union.

Molly Romine, the vice president of the Big Brothers Big Sisters RSO, made clear that the organization is not just for mentors — it’s for anyone who wants to help the organization as a whole.

“People feel like if they come to (the meeting) they have to become a big brother or big sister, but that’s not the point of the RSO,” Romine said. “Just do the events, you don’t have to become one.”

Toq Lawrence, executive director of the Mid-Illinois Big Brothers Big Sisters, said she is excited about the organization getting involved on campus.

“It’s something we’ve been working on for two to three years, and we’re very excited to finally become a student organization last semester,” Lawrence said.

Big programs, big goals

The national organization has two programs: the community-based and the school-based.

The community-based program, which Hedger is a part of, is one where a mentor is matched with a child who could benefit from having a mentor.

Not all children involved in the program have less-than-satisfactory home lives, though, Hedger said.

“Some kids have wonderful families, but there are just other circumstances that would make it beneficial for them to have a mentor,” Hedger said.

Mentors spend 10 to 15 hours a month with their child, hanging out and talking about life.

Lawrence said mentors involved in the community-based program usually take their children out and about in the community, doing activities they both enjoy.

“We don’t encourage spending lots of money because lots of things that cost money don’t involve a lot of conversation and getting to know each other,” Lawrence said.

Romine said she and her little sister play sports, go the YMCA and get ice cream a lot. She said she was even brave enough to let her little sister give her a makeover once.

“I had a 7-year-old do my makeup and my nails,” Romine laughed. “They were rainbow-colored. My face was a mess — I looked like a train wreck.”

As for the school-based program, mentors go to their child’s school once a week to spend time with them during their lunch hour to play games and have fun.

The nitty-gritty

To be a big brother or big sister, mentors go through a few interviews and a screening process. They are asked for preferences, like interests, age group, ethnicity and religion, which are then matched with the child’s preferences.

The organization tries to pair mentors with children who have similar interests so they can do activities they both enjoy.

“We want the volunteer to enjoy it as well,” Lawrence said. “If it’s a chore or not enjoyable, they won’t do it.”

Cordy Love, the adviser for the Big Brothers Big Sisters RSO, said children need good role models, and he thinks Eastern students are great for the job.

The Mid-Illinois Big Brothers Big Sisters encompasses an eight-county area, and Lawrence said more than 100 children are still the waiting list for a mentor.

“There are still so many kids who need matches, especially boys,” Hedger said. “Well over half still need a big brother, and they’ve been on the waiting list for more than a year.”

Lawrence said children who participate in Big Brothers Big Sisters see many positive results, including a decrease in drug use and violence, having higher self-esteem, better grades, and better relationships with parents.

“At the end of the day, it’s just Eastern’s way to give back to the community,” Love said.

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