County joins mentoring program

Published 6:00 am Monday, January 19, 2004

Brookhaven’s state-recognized mentoring program has expanded andcan now provide “big brothers” and “big sisters” to students atLincoln County schools.

The Big Brothers/Big Sisters mentoring program has beenestablished more than a century and started in the BrookhavenPublic School District in 2000. This year, program participantswill begin offering their services to the Lincoln County PublicSchool District.

“We’re looking for big and exciting things for the countyschools,” said Maxine Jones, project manager. “The support we’veseen from the new superintendent, the faculty and staff has beenphenomenal.”

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The expansion actually began in November 2003 when formerSuperintendent Perry Miller questioned Jones and others about theprogram, she said. However, the expansion has picked up speed sinceSuperintendent Terry Brister took office this month.

County students have always been involved in the program, Jonessaid. Juniors and seniors at county schools have volunteered toserve as big brothers and sisters at the city schools since theprogram was brought to Brookhaven.

“The students have always been involved in the mentoring,” shesaid. “The volunteers could come from anywhere in the county, butwe have only had the city district to send them to. This changesthat.”

What makes the expansion special, she said, is that now bigbrothers and sisters can be matched with “littles” in the countyschools.

“I’m so excited, finally, to have it all over the county,” Jonessaid.

Brister said he was proud to be a part of the expansion.

“This is very important to our kids,” he said. “I didn’t realizehow much self-satisfaction and self-esteem these kids were gettingfrom it until I came to work here, but when you see it firsthand itreally makes an impact.”

County schools are ideal for the program, Jones said, becausethey host students from kindergarten to high school. In many cases,a junior or senior at the school can volunteer to serve as a bigbrother or sister to a younger student at the same school.

The program is quite simple and the results are almost immediateonce a bond is formed, said Cindy Ratcliff, a case worker with theorganization.

Volunteers, or “bigs,” are matched with students, or “littles,”based on their likes and dislikes and the compatibility of theirmeeting schedules.

“We desperately need positive role models,” Ratcliff said. “It’svery flexible. It just has to be done during school hours.”

Bigs will meet with littles for an hour about once a week onschool grounds, Jones said. No contact is allowed off schoolgrounds and each meeting lasts between 45 minutes to an hour. Bigsare asked to commit to the program for at least one schoolyear.

“Once they get a mentor, they get excited to see them,” Jonessaid. “Their faces light up. When the mentor doesn’t show, they getupset. We don’t like the program to be a disappointment to anychild.”

Ratcliff dispelled the myth that littles participating in theprogram are troubled children.

“These are all good kids and they haven’t been in trouble,”Ratcliff said. “There are other programs out there for (troubledchildren).”

Instead, she said, the littles in the program come from abackground where a big brother or big sister could have a biginfluence on their lives, such as an only child or a boy in a largefamily of all women.

The mentoring program is also not just a tutorial program, Jonessaid.

“They may help them with their homework, but it’s more aboutspending time as a friend” and trusted confidant, she said.

To volunteer for the Big Brothers/Big Sisters program, contactJones or Ratcliff at 835-3982.