Big Brothers Big Sisters set for fifth year

Published 5:00 am Friday, July 16, 2004

As it prepares for its fifth year, Big Brothers Big Sisters ofLincoln County is looking for more mentors to help “put magic in achild’s life.”

About 30 people showed up Thursday at Mamie Martin ElementarySchool for a workshop for prospective mentors.

An exact number of mentors needed was not available, but newones have to be found to replace high school student mentors whograduate and adults who no longer can participate for variousreasons. Male mentors are matched with male “littles” while femalementors may be matched with a boy or a girl, said Susie Patrick,case worker for the Brookhaven office.

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“The main thing we need is men and boys,” Patrick said. “We havea lot of boys who need a male figure in their lives.”

The national organization is marking its 100-year anniversary.In Mississippi, the program has been around since 1999.

“It’s still a growing organization, especially in Mississippi,”Patrick said.

Brookhaven was one of eight original regions formed in 1999 byAttorney General Mike Moore. Mississippi was the first to implementa statewide mentoring network.

In Brookhaven, the program has grown from 100 matches in thefirst year to 253 last year, Patrick said. It has also expandedinto the county school district and to Brookhaven Academy.

“We have had great success in Lincoln County,” Patrick said.

Big Brothers Big Sisters of Mississippi is a site-based program,meaning mentoring visits are only at schools or at approved eventssuch as the Lincoln County chapter’s annual picnic. Acommunity-based program, in contrast, allows visits away from theschool setting.

Adult mentor applicants will have criminal background checksdone while high school mentors, who can be juniors or seniors, willhave their discipline records and references checked.

The checks and other screening activities are part of a thoroughevaluation during the matching process. Case worker Cindy Ratcliffsaid names are not “drawn out of a hat.”

“We want to make sure you’re compatible,” Ratcliff said.

Once matched, program case workers schedule a one hour a weekvisit between adult “bigs” and student “littles.” For mentors,Ratcliff stressed importance of maintaining communications withtheir “littles” and keeping appointments.

“We want you to be committed,” Ratcliff said.

She and Patrick mentioned some lasting friendships that havedeveloped through the program. Also, Patrick said the programencourages school attendance and better attention to class work bythe children.

“Kids in this program have a higher percentage of success,”Patrick said.

Patrick and Ratcliff emphasized that Big Brothers Big Sisters isnot a tutoring organization, although that is sometimes whathappens during the visits. Mentor Susan Jones said she thought shewould be tutoring, but her “little” wanted to do somethingelse.

“All she wanted to do was play games, and that’s OK,” Jonessaid.

Former Enterprise student Jamie Hillman, who plans to continuementoring while at Co-Lin, said her “little” enjoys going to thelibrary and reading.

“It was fun just watching her,” Hillman said.

Patrick and Ratcliff also addressed a misconception that theprogram is only for poor or underprivileged children. While thatclassification of children is a part of it, the program serveschildren in other situations as well.

“It’s just for kids who need a friend,” Ratcliff said.

Anyone seeking more information about the Big Brothers BigSisters program may call the program office, located at MullinsSchool, at 835-3982. Patrick said the program’s theme this year is”Little Moments, Big Magic.”

“With one hour a week during the school year, they can bring alot of magic to a child’s life,” Patrick said.