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Program is in need of Big Brother mentors

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ROCHELLE B. BIRKELO
January 2, 2008
— Ten-year-old Caleb Drays just wants somebody to listen to him.

That someone is Arnold Arndt, his "big brother."


The two were matched about six months ago through Big Brothers Big Sisters of Rock, Walworth & Jefferson County.


It's a good match. Caleb comes from a single-parent home with three brothers. Arndt, 72, never had children.


"It's a lot of fun, and we do a lot of activities. It's awesome," said Caleb, a fourth-grader at Lincoln Elementary School.


"It's going very fine. I have a good match—a nice young man, who is a good sport, good-natured and willing to play cards, do things with me and to share," Arndt said.


The two get together every two weeks for two hours. They both love to swim. They also go bowling, play video games at the library, play cards and talk. They end every outing with an ice cream treat.


"It's been very rewarding," Arndt said.


Caleb's mother, Melissa Drays, is widowed and has no family nearby. She said Arndt has been a positive male role model in her son's life.


"They are just really good friends, and Caleb is always so excited to go with him. It gives him that special chance just to talk to somebody one-on-one without any interference."


At home, Melissa said, it's easy for Caleb to get lost in the family. Caleb's older brother Brady has epilepsy. His oldest brother Adam is good in sports. Caleb's younger brother is 8.


Through his "big brother" match, "he's something special," Melissa said.


Caleb waited five months to be matched with Arndt.


He's fortunate.


Big Brothers Big Sisters has 30 boys in the Rock County area on a waiting list, said Executive Director Nancy Mignon.


The challenge in finding mentors is whether they can deal with issues children on the waiting list face, she said.


"Children today do not feel safe in their own homes. More often than not, they are dealing with divorce, domestic violence issues, parents being unemployed, substance abuse, hunger and medical issues."


After 16 years of leading the agency, Mignon fears it will get more difficult to find adult mentors as the problems young people face become more serious.


Big Brothers Big Sisters is making it a priority to look for male volunteers.


The agency faces another problem in recruiting volunteers—the need for more staff. One full-time person trains and matches volunteers in the three-county area, Mignon said.


But before staff can increase, she said, the agency will need more funding. So Big Brothers Big Sisters is looking for donations of money, too.


"It takes five people to make a match," Mignon said. "The Big. The Little. The parent. The Big Brothers Big Sisters staff person and the donor."


That's why Arndt encourages others to give their spare time to be a mentor.


"There is an abundance of children that need guidance," he said.


TO HELP

Big Brothers Big Sisters of Rock, Walworth and Jefferson County needs volunteers, especially adult male mentors.


Visit the agency's headquarters at 2433 S. Riverside Drive, Beloit.


Call (608) 362-8223 in Beloit, (262) 728-8865 in Delavan, (920) 563-2876 in Jefferson or e-mail BBBSNancy@aol.com.
BIG OPPORTUNITIES

Big Brothers Big Sisters of Rock, Walworth and Jefferson County serves children ages 6 to 14 from single-parent homes by matching them with an adult volunteer.


A social worker arranges the matches and helps establish goals. Children and volunteers meet weekly for a minimum of one year.


Volunteers must be 18 years old, have a valid driver’s license, pass a background check and home visit, and be willing to spend one year seeing a child on a regular basis.


The program offers two types of volunteer opportunities:


Core program: Volunteers give children individualized time and attention on a regular basis, exploring new interests and developing a relationship. The "big" helps the child manage the everyday challenges that are part of growing up.


School-based mentoring: Also known as Lunch Buddies, this is the fastest-growing program offered. Volunteers meet weekly at the child’s school for lunch, to play board games and to help the child discover ways to make school and learning a positive experience. While volunteers spend a limited amount of time with the child, teachers report better attendance, more positive behavior and academic gains after a child has been matched. Volunteers get the satisfaction of watching their “little” achieve success in school.



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