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Big Brothers Big Sisters Impacting Children's Lives

By Ann Patton, Academy Spirit staff

The bigs and littles don't get measured by their height but by the size of their hearts. As Pikes Peak Big Brothers and Big Sisters buddy up with their smaller charges, their littles, they bring friendship, mentoring and healthy opportunities for fun and growth.

The local chapter expects to serve 500-plus youngsters for this calendar year.

There is always a need for both Big Brothers and Big Sisters, especially Big Brothers, who may wait up to two years for a Big Brother, said Lt. Col. Freddie Rodriguez, director of reserve research at the Academy's Institute for Information Technology Applications and a Big Brothers Big Sisters Board member.

The inaugural Big Brothers Big Sisters Week in August, through the "60 Men in 60 Days" push, netted more than the targeted number of Big Brothers.

Yet currently about 20 boys and 10 girls await a mentor.

"That 60 in a short time made a huge impact," he said. "We still need more and guys with good hearts."

Once in the midst of maintaining a busy Air Force career, Colonel Rodriguez gave a second thought to becoming a Big Brother. It was about 12 years ago he made the call to Big Brothers Big Sisters and has been a mentor ever since.

"These are tough economic times, and everyone is busy. But for our one-on-one matches with the community-based mentoring program, we're asking for two to four times a month for a few hours each," he said. "Some of the greatest joys and learning moments come from just hanging out and doing everyday things, like running errands, hiking and watching movies."

The cadet Falcon Club members, all Big Brothers Big Sisters who share mentoring, find it more than worthwhile.

"The best part has been hearing my little say how happy he is to spend time with my partner and me," said Cadet 2nd Class Darren Montes. "He always has a smile on his face when he's with us." Cadet 2nd Class Tiffany Sollman recalled one special moment with her little.

"It was watching my 5-year-old little dancing in excitement when she got the bowling ball all the way to the pins by herself," she said.

Big Brothers Big Sisters seeks to improve the sense of self and community, improve attitudes toward school and learning -- and learning to avoid negative or delinquent behavior.

The organization has found, as a result of their participation, littles get better grades and improved attitudes toward school, get along better with parents and peers, and are less likely to begin using drugs and alcohol or to hit someone.

Big Brothers Big Sisters accepts referrals for children between ages 7 and 12. Some common issues and backgrounds the children come from include being a child of a single, incarcerated or deceased parent or a child in the custody of extended family or foster parents. Some are homeless, others are in temporary housing. They may have experienced traumatic events, neglect or abuse or need guidance from a mentor outside their family.

Referrals come from family members, neighbors, friends, teachers, coaches or private counselors. Bigs and littles may participate in communitybased mentoring on a one-on-one basis or site-based mentoring when each big and little meets regularly at a specific supervised location such as a school or with the Falcon Club.

Volunteers must be 16 to become a school-based mentor and 18 for all other programs. Both bigs and littles receive training and briefings prior to building relationships and on-going support thereafter.

Bigs are encouraged to offer no- or low-cost activities. Program staff matches bigs and littles, taking into consideration backgrounds, personalities, interests and experiences of both. Bigs undergo background checks.

Colonel Rodriguez said the program is not just a convenience for parents.

"We are not a babysitting service. Our goal is to mentor. That's what makes a difference in kids' lives," he stressed.

Building trust between bigs and littles takes time, but it is time well-spent.

"I enjoy seeing them get less shy the more time you spend with them and open up to you as they trust you," said Cadet 1st Class Gregory Rettler, who now has his second little.

"I find it satisfying to show a child that people are about my little," Cadet Sollmann said. "It's a great opportunity to just spend time with a kid, make her happy and encourage her to do her best." Cadet 2nd Class Kathleen Schjodt feels the same way.

"The pure joy I see on my little girl's face when she sees and plays with her other Big Sister and me makes the time I spend with her completely worthwhile," she said. Littles also give cadets a mental break from life on the hill.

"It is very fun. It's a great opportunity to spend time with people who are so much different than the people I see in school and around the Academy every day," said Cadet 4th Class Christopher Chorney. "I essentially get to live as a kid again and, at least for the two hours a month, get to see the stress-free, good world through the eyes of the kids." The Big Brothers Big Sisters program originated in New York City in 1904. It began in Colorado in 1918.

For more information on the program, visit www.bbbscolo.org/pikespeak or call 633-2443.


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