In search of Bigs for Littles
Settling in to her new role as the coordinator of Big Brothers Big Sisters of Jefferson County, Casey Peters looks to the new year with high hopes for the nonprofit program that matches children age 6 to 17 with adult volunteers who act as friends, mentors and role models.
And the Toronto native and 2002 graduate of Edison High School has one immediate goal – to find local men and women willing to spend a few hours a month making a positive difference in the lives of youth.
While the program has 14 matches in place right now, there are 24 youth between the ages of 6 and 17 on a waiting list.
“They are so anxious to be matched with someone,” said Peters, who came on board as the program’s coordinator in August 2013.
A Big Brother or Big Sister is “a very special adult friend who will spend time with you each month, someone who will share fun activities with you and someone you can talk to about your good days and your bad days,” according to promotional material.
“In our own lives, each of us was touched by someone, other than our parents, who broadened our horizons and brought a little magic into our lives,” the promotional material continues. “By becoming a Big Brother or Big Sister, you can do the same for a child, and you will both be forever changed by the experience.”
To become a Big, an individual must be at least 18; have a valid driver’s license and proof of insurance; undergo a background check; participate in an interview; and provide three references.
“Once approved we go through the children on the waiting list and try to find a perfect match, and if we think we have the perfect person, we do a matched interview with the volunteer, the child and the child’s family,” Peters explained. “Then if all parties agree, they start their match and go on their first outing that same day, and I follow up in 48 hours to see how the match went.”
BBBS of Jefferson County is a program of Family and Community Services in Ravenna and is a member agency of the United Way of Jefferson County. The program works to pair a mentor and child with similar interests and asks for Bigs to spend at least 12 hours a month with their Littles, although more time is OK, too, according to Peters, a graduate of Eastern Gateway Community College who earned an associate degree in elementary teaching, then her bachelor’s degree in teaching from Liberty University.
Before her job with BBBS, Peters worked in child care, at Family Service Association and as a preschool teacher at Almost Home Day Care in Wintersville.
The combined role of working with children as well as the community with networking and fundraising is something that appeals to Peters, who has made several changes since becoming the program’s coordinator.
She has expanded the office hours from 8:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. Monday through Friday. The office is located in suite 10 of the Gallery building, 2700 Sunset Blvd., Steubenville. The telephone number is (740) 264-3306. The website is www.bbbsjeff.org. There also is a Facebook page.
A bi-monthly newsletter that began this month details what’s going on with the program.
A monthly match activity is now organized and involves all Bigs and Littles and those on the waiting list, too. The get-togethers foster friendship and serve as a support system and program promoter.
In September, an officer discussed child safety; in October, there was an outing to Toronto the Goucher Haunted House; and in December, the Starkdale Live Nativity was visited
“This month we’re having a movie night,” Peters said with Bigs and Littles meeting at the BBBS office on Jan. 25 at 7 p.m. to watch “The Croods.”
Peters, who noted January is National Mentoring Month, said she is available to give presentations to organizations and churches or anyone interested.
“The most rewarding thing about being a Big is making an impact on that child’s life – how much you can help a child succeed,” she said of the volunteer role that requires a small investment of time but not necessarily money.
“These are wonderful kids on the waiting list,” she said, explaining that Littles could be children with an absent father, for example, or being raised by grandparents who look to the BBBS program for a little help in keeping them on the right path.
Littles come to the program referred through schools, program promotion or by word of mouth.
Funds for the program come through grants, the main Bowling For Kids’ Sake fundraiser, United Way funding and through donations, which can be sent to the office address.
Peters describes the BBBS board as “fabulous.” It includes board President Marcy Ryan, Sandi Rue, Bryan Felmet, Jene Watkins, Steve Fineman, Bob Sagrilla, Mark Furda and Phyllis Riccadonna, past director.
“We’re looking for new board members – we need two,” she said. The board meets on the last Tuesday of the month at 4 p.m.
Peters loves the job and the program.
“I think it’s just such an important organization in this community letting kids have a sense of having someone to go to, to talk to. If a child feels he has someone there to listen to him, it can make such a huge difference in the life of a child.”