LEWISTOWN - You have the potential to change a young person's life.
Dave McMillan, chair of the Big Brothers Big Sisters Alumni Association in Los Angeles, as well as a past "little" and current "big," listed this as the number one reason to become a mentor in an online blog post written in celebration of National Mentoring Month.
The need for program volunteers is constantly growing, and January is the first of many months dedicated to raising awareness of the need for more mentors, said Judy Fitzgerald, program coordinator for Big Brothers Big Sisters of Juniata Valley.
Sentinel photo by BUFFIE BOYER
Makenzie Rearick, left, and Kimberly Shaffer have been matched through the Big Brothers Big Sisters community-based program for five years.
"We keep getting youth referrals, it's just very difficult to recruit bigs," she said.
Nevertheless, there are always local children waiting anxiously for a mentor of their own.
Kimberly Shaffer, community-based mentor, said it was a newspaper article about BBBS that drew her to the program. After being approved as a mentor, Shaffer was matched with Makenzie Rearick, now a 10th grader at Mifflin County High School.
"She's my first match," Shaffer said. "I've had her for five years now."
Together, the pair often enjoys girls' nights out for dinner and a movie. They said their favorites have traditionally been animated classics, but they've recently started seeing dramas too.
"We spent about two years going almost every Friday night," Shaffer said.
She also shares her passion for skiing with Rearick.
"I was an instructor years back," Shaffer said. "I taught her some basics."
"It was fun, but scary at the same time," Rearick remembered about her first trip to Ski Roundtop.
Shaffer said Rearick caught on quickly, which was no surprise since she has always been involved in sports.
Though big and little pairs are only required to meet for an hour each week, Shaffer said she and Rearick try to meet two or three times for an afternoon or day out together.
"I've enjoyed every bit of my time with her," she said.
For Shaffer, the relationship feels like family. She said Rearick is like a daughter to her, and she enjoys the opportunity to be a mentor and friend.
"It's rewarding for me to have Makenzie. We've built such a nice relationship ... that's been really important to me," she said.
Many partnerships created by the community-based program at BBBS have similar stories. Fitzgerald said the program matches youth and adults based on common interests and shared learning experiences. Matches meet independently for at least one hour per week, depending on the big's and little's schedules.
"(The community-based program) gives the big and little the freedom to meet on the day, time and at the location they desire," she said.
During that time, bigs strive to strengthen the bond with their little. Fitzgerald said the bond between mentor and mentee improves the ability of youth to approach new situations with greater self-esteem and confidence. Additionally, a nationwide study found that littles were 46 percent less likely to begin using illegal drugs, 27 percent less likely to begin using alcohol and 52 percent less likely to skip school.
BBBS also offers a site-based mentoring program for elementary students weekly at local schools. This program is supervised by BBBS staff and offers high school students, as well as adults, the chance to be mentors.
Together, the community- and site-based programs have had a positive effect in the Juniata Valley and nationally. A press release from BBBS reports that involved youth maintained an average or above score in educational success, avoidance of risky behaviors and socio-emotional competency. Fitzgerald said the program shapes area youth into successful, contributing members of the community.
Though the numbers show marked progress on paper, the relationship of real-life matches is even more evidence of the impact a mentor can have on their little. Rearick has enjoyed her time with Shaffer so much that she is looking forward to becoming a mentor herself one day.
"I've always been a little, so I want to give back and be a big," she said.
Likewise, Rearick has plans to serve in the Army after graduation - a path her own family members, as well as Shaffer and her sons, followed too.
Statistics show that having a mentor improves the lives of children, but Shaffer and Rearick agreed that the partnership is a two-way street. The long-time match said they plan to stay in touch even after Makenzie's graduation from the program.
"Kim and her little have a really beautiful bond that will take them into the future," Fitzgerald said.
The staff at BBBS is striving to make at least 50 successful matches in the Juniata Valley this year. Fitzgerald encouraged high school students and adults who are interested in becoming a mentor to call Big Brothers Big Sisters of Juniata Valley at 248-4034 or visit www.ccysb.com/jvbbbs/index.php for more information about the program.
Big Brothers Big Sisters of Juniata Valley will also hold its annual Bowl For Kids' Sake fundraiser March 15, 16 and 17 at the Moose Family Center in Lewistown and Ney's Bowling Center in Mifflintown. Teams of four people that raise $200 or more can choose the date, time and location they want to bowl during the weekend-long event. Sponsorship opportunities also exist for businesses and non-bowlers, with levels ranging from $50 to $1,000. To sign up to bowl, sponsor the event or join the committee, call 248-4034. Team registrations are due by Feb. 8. Sponsorship agreements are due by Feb. 22.