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Volunteers are meal ticket to the success of Lunch Buddies

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ROCHELLE B. BIRKELO
October 4, 2008

As Jere Johnson walked into the school, he noticed Devon hurrying down the hall with a group of fourth-grade classmates on their way to the cafeteria.


Johnson quickly joined them, waiting and talking with the kids as the line snaked through the cafeteria. After Devon filled his tray, the two sat together. They were anxious to catch up because they hadnít seen each other for a week.


"Tell me a bit about what's been going on," Johnson said.


"My baby sister's birthday is coming up. She'll be 1, and we're having a party," Devon said.


"I went to the Badger (football) game," Johnson added.


"I didn't watch it," 9-year-old Devon said.


"It wasn't on TV. It was in Michigan. Do you know where Michigan is?Ē Johnson asked.


"Yes," Devon said.


"That's right. You have relatives who live there,'' Johnson recalled.


Devon and Johnson, who are in the third year of the Big Brothers Big Sisters Lunch Buddies program, continued to talk while Devon ate. When he finished, they went outside for recess.


Many of the students followed the two, wanting the extra attention Devon was getting from Johnson.


Thatís no surprise to Wendy Aide, Lunch Buddies coordinator.


"Every child wants a lunch buddy. Most of the schools have waiting lists,'' she said.


Since Big Brothers Big Sisters of Rock, Walworth and Jefferson Counties launched Lunch Buddies six years ago, it has expanded from one elementary school to 20 schools in seven communities with more than 250 matches, said Nancy Mignon, Big Brothers Big Sisters executive director.


The growing program needs more volunteers 16 and older, Aide said.


The school-based, one-on-one mentoring program is a fun, rewarding volunteer experience and a great way to give back through a limited time commitment, she said. It targets first-through fifth-graders referred by school staff or parents who think the children would benefit, Aide said.


The program has been a success, she said, because of the volunteers.


"They're all just wonderful, dedicated and so caring in addition to being awesome assets to the children,'' Aide said.


To join, volunteers must have a reference letter and pass a screening and background check.


"We'd love to have it in every school," Aide said.


The program gives kids extra attention to help with self-esteem and social issues, she said.


"The goal is to see these kids enjoy and do well in school plus feel good about themselves,'' Aide said.


Johnson said he volunteered after learning of the program through a good friend who also is a lunch buddy.


Since being matched with Johnson, Devon has become more outgoing.


ďHeís been a very good student. Iím proud of his accomplishments. I think he likes to have a lunch buddy, too. It makes him feel a little bit special.Ē


HOW TO HELP

Big Brothers Big Sisters of Rock, Walworth & Jefferson Counties needs adults to serve as Lunch Buddies.


To volunteer one hour a week, call (608) 362-8223 or 1-888-904-KIDS or e-mail bbbsjolynn@hotmail.com.

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