Big Brothers picture

Mentee Natalya and mentor Marissa Jarnagin stand with Bobby the Bearcat after participating in a small game during halftime Jan. 31.

The role models in people’s lives influence who they may become later in life. For young children these can become the unofficial big siblings they attach themselves too as they grow up.

Big Brothers Big Sisters is the country’s largest and oldest evidence-based mentor program, helping provide children with adult mentors. In the organization’s mission statement, Big Brothers Big Sisters wants to “provide children facing adversity with strong and enduring, professionally supported one-to-one relationships that change their lives for the better.”

Clinical laboratory science junior Shawna Schumacher experienced the program long before she became a mentor to third-grader Kaelyn.

“My brother and sister were both in the program growing up, and I saw how it helped them grow into the people they are now,” Schumacher said. “I wanted to be able to do the same thing and give back.”

Big Brothers Big Sisters started in 1904 by a New York City court clerk, Ernest Coulter, and paired with the Ladies of Charity in 1997 to including mentoring for both boys and girls.

In Big Brothers Big Sisters, mentors and mentees, or “Bigs” and “Littles” are partnered up. The process takes around two months to complete. Potential mentors go through an interview process where they are asked about their interests, availability and what works best for them. Mentors then have a home visit to make sure it’s a safe environment for their potential mentee. Once the mentors have been approved, they go through the matching process to determine a mentee.

Once the two are paired, it is up to the two to decide how often they spend time together and what they will do during their meetings.

“Kaelyn is very energetic and loves crafts,” Schumacher said. “We have made and decorated cupcakes a few times. We try and do some things centered around the holidays, so we’ve made snow globes. We’ve painted flower pots to plant flowers. We go to the park and play or even just go on walks sometimes. She really likes to go bowling, so sometimes we do that; she normally beats me though.”

Big Brothers Big Sisters pushes mentors to inspire self-confidence, importance of education and provide positive reinforcement for good character development.

Marketing junior Brody Buck strives to provide a positive voice for his mentee, Mason.

“To me, I get to provide an impact to the generation after me,” Buck said. “I never had a little brother or a brother in general.”

To Buck, it all boils down to practicing what he preaches and trying to show Mason what is right and wrong through his own actions.

“You have to watch what you say and what you do,” Buck said. “That little kid is looking up to me, and if I’m not being a good example, all he’s going to know is what I do … it’s crazy how much middle schoolers look up to college students. I don’t know why, but they just do. So, if I’m not being a good example, then he thinks it’s acceptable to do whatever I’m doing.”

Buck said he tries to lead by example, trying to lead a life he hopes Mason will adopt.

“So if I’m someone who gives back to the community, pursues a relationship with God and goes to church, or something like that, he sees that,” Buck said.

David L. DuBois, Carla Herrera and Julius Rivera conducted research for the National Criminal Justice Reference Service in 2018. The trio found that mentees with a year-long partnership with their mentor had “statistically significant predictor of fewer total arrests” and, in mentees of color, were more likely to seek a college education.

Buck started his application in December after the suggestion of his friend and football teammate, Devante Mosbey. Buck describes juggling being a student, athlete and a mentor as finding a small piece of time in the week.

“All they ask is an hour a week,” Buck said. “Honestly, even if you have a job, play sports, you can find an hour. It’s not that great of a commitment. It’s just consistency. Every week, just find an hour to call up their [the little’s] parents and ask if they are free.”

Buck finds his hour on the weekends.

“Weekends are really good for me,” Buck said. “But there are always evenings where I can call up Mason’s parents and see if he wants to hang out.”

Buck and Mason often spend their time together outside, playing catch with a football or going for walks.

“He’s a fifth-grader, and I don’t know if you’re familiar with fifth-grade boys, but they are all over the place,” Buck said. “It’s funny because you can never tell how a fifth-grader, especially a boy, will turn out. He could be a completely bad kid and turn out to be great, but Mason is a really respectful kid.”

While the program is intended to benefit the littles, bigs often walk away with a sense of accomplishment.

In 2010, John M. Bridgeland and Laura A. Moore conducted a study which found 78 percent of mentors said, “Encouraging other individuals to be more involved in directly helping children was more important than working to change public policy.”

For Northwest students, the feeling of helping younger children brings a sense of joy.

“Being a big has probably been one of the most rewarding things I’ve ever done,” Schumacher said. “You don’t truly understand the impact you make, but trust me, the families do. I have gained so much from Kaelyn, just understanding that kids see and hear more than we think they do. It’s the little things that you notice that actually make a big impact.”

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