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Efforts pay off ‘Big’ for kids, mentors

Varris Kees had always heard his friends talk about the fun theyhad by being in Big Brothers Big Sisters and serving as a mentor toa young child. He said he wanted that experience as well.

“I figured it would be good for me to be in it, too,” Keessaid.

The Brookhaven High School senior was one of about 30prospective mentors and returning “big brothers and sisters”attending an orientation workshop last Tuesday at Mamie MartinElementary School.

Mentors, or “bigs,” meet for an hour each week with their”littles” at their elementary schools.

Mentors can share in fun activities or help with school work,but the main thing is simply being a friend to their “little,” saidCindy Ratcliff, case worker for the Brookhaven office. Meetings areeither at the school or during approved programs like an annualpicnic.

Last year, the local program had more than 250 matchings, and asimilar number is expected this year, said fellow case worker SusiePatrick. Matchings are done based on common interests, timeschedules and other factors.

Adults, college students, and high school juniors and seniorscan serve as mentors. Patrick said there continues to be a need foradult men to serve as mentors.

For all mentors, she said it is important to stay committed tomeeting with their littles and to stay in contact with the child’steacher.

“Communication is the key,” Ratcliff added.

The Big Brothers Big Sisters program has been around nationwidefor over 100 years. A statewide program was begun in 1999 bythen-Attorney General Mike Moore.

Patrick said the program has been in the Brookhaven SchoolDistrict for six years and the Lincoln County School District forthree years. Brookhaven Academy students also participate asmentors.

“We feel real good about our high school program,” Patricksaid.

BHS senior Bart Sias was among those signing up to be mentorsTuesday.

When he was in elementary school, Sias was a little. He said hisexperience then could give him a better perspective now as abig.

“I can understand more and know what they’re going through oncertain things,” Sias said.

The Brookhaven program has received state and nationalrecognition for its success. High school mentors have earnedscholarships to assist them in college.

“Brookhaven has been the shining star of the program,” Patricksaid. “We’ve always had a good program.”

Students Chris Hooper, Josh Herrington and Rachael Cade earnedscholarships last year and plan to continue their mentoringactivities while attending Co-Lin. They discussed some of theirtimes with their littles in recent years.

“The times I got to play with him was great because I got to bea kid again,” Herrington said.

Cade said her little would proudly introduce her to friends asher big sister.

“It was great,” Cade said. “I was a big part of her life andshe’s a big part of mine.”

Patrick praised Hooper, Herrington and Cade as examples ofdedication to Big Brothers Big Sisters.

“They are the epitome of what we want in commitment,” shesaid.

Anyone seeking more information about the Big Brothers BigSisters program may call the program office, located at MullinsSchool, at (601) 835-3982. Matches will be done in August, andmentoring activities will start around Labor Day.

Adult mentor applicants will have criminal background checksdone, while high school mentors will have their discipline recordsand references checked. The checks and other screening activitiesare part of a thorough evaluation during the matching process.

“I think that helps with our success rate,” Patrick said.