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Big Brothers Big Sisters in need of volunteer mentors

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Shelly Birkelo
January 19, 2013

— Lucia Zuniga's reading grade improved from a "C" to an "A" in two months.

The 11-year-old fifth grader at Burdge Elementary School in Beloit attributes her improvement to Big Sister Ann Forbeck.

"I have to read to somebody because I can't read that good. With Ann, she doesn't walk away. At home, they don't want to listen," Lucia said.

"I just let her read," Forbeck said.

"She's doing great, so we're going to celebrate tonight," she said Wednesday.

Big Brothers Big Sisters of Rock, Walworth and Jefferson Counties continues to have more children than volunteers, said Pam Carper, district director.

"In Rock County, we have over 50 children on the waiting list. Of these, the majority are young boys," she said.

"In Walworth County there are eight and in Jefferson County 15 youth on the waiting list. In these two counties, it is more evenly divided between boys and girls waiting for a match," she said.

The shortage of volunteers is cyclical, Carper said.

"As with any economic crisis, people were not giving as they normally would of their time," she said.

Forbeck said people don't have to spend a lot of money or time to be a mentor.

Since being matched with Lucia in November 2012, they have visited a museum, gone to a movie, eaten out and spent time with Forbeck's family.

"Most of the time, we do activities that are free or nearly free when we try to get together weekly or once every two weeks," Forbeck said.

Forbeck, 42, is married and has five children between the ages of 10 and 14. She works full time for the Janesville School District but makes time to be a mentor because she has seen what good comes from it through her work as the homeless liaison.

Carper said that's why Big Brothers Big Sisters is so popular among youth and their parents.

"It has been tracked and recorded nationwide that a child in a mentoring program will make better life choices. They make better friend and acquaintance choices, will do statistically better in school and are less likely to get involved in alcohol, drugs and gang participation, while they're more likely to get involved in school and community activities," she said.

To recruit more volunteers, local Big Brothers Big Sisters leaders are discussing new ways to reach out into communities and volunteer networks and to reconnect with those who used to be with the agency, Carper said.

Lucia said she became a little sister because she has three brothers and no sisters and her mom is a busy working single parent.

Forbeck believes almost anyone could serve as a big brother or big sister.

"The biggest thing is you have to like kids,'' she said.

"We just have fun together. That's the main thing."

Mentoring options

The local Big Brothers Big Sisters is among more than 500 affiliates nationwide where those 16 and older provide mentoring services to children ages 6 to 14. The local chapter serves Beloit, Janesville, Fort Atkinson, Jefferson, Whitewater, Delavan, Lake Geneva, East Troy, Elkhorn and surrounding communities.

Children and adults are matched through three programs, said Pam Carper, director of Big Brothers Big Sisters of Rock, Walworth and Jefferson Counties, headquartered in Beloit:

-- Community-based program: A volunteer mentor is matched with a youth and they get together after school and/or on weekends.

"This is an opportunity to work on homework, learn a sport, attend functions and learn positive behaviors," Carper said.

-- The Lunch Buddy Program: A volunteer mentor meets with the student for one lunch or recess period a week during the school year.

"This program helps volunteers who were not sure about time commitment become involved while helping a student in their school setting," she said.

-- The Family Match: Couples are matched with a child to provide the child a full family experience.

"There are many couples that would like to do this together. This has been a successful addition to the program for both the child and the volunteers but is not well known," Carper said.



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