MILTON — Milton High School senior Shawn Sturdivant and sixth grader Keileb Gobel like to play chess and the board game Operation. They’ve also gone bowling.
Milton High School Holly Nguyen and fourth grader Kairi Gobel like to make rainbow loom bracelets out of rubber bands.
They’re all part of a new Big Brothers Big Sisters of South Central Wisconsin pilot program in the Milton School District that pairs high school-age mentors with students at Northside Intermediate School in Milton.
Big Brothers Big Sisters of South Central Wisconsin Executive Director Kurt Saterbak said Milton is the only school district to sign on so far in a region that includes Rock, Walworth, Jefferson and Dodge counties.
Big Brothers Big Sisters is a national program that pairs volunteers mentors known as “Bigs” with children age 6-16, referred to as “Littles.” Volunteers are typically retirees or others who have time to spare after work or college. Activities typically include eating lunch together at school, playing in a park or just hanging out.
Saterbak has been affiliated with Big Brothers Big Sisters for about a year and a half. He said he immediately noticed a shortage of adult volunteers, that led to a retooling to bring in high school students.
It seems a perfect pairing, he said.
“We’ve got kids we need to serve and we have high school kids who want to make a difference in their community,” Saterbak said.
Jim Meacham, president of the board of the local Big Brothers Big Sisters chapter, was a Big for nine years before joining the board. He said being a mentor made him a better dad and challenged him to interact more intentionally with his children.
Meacham also said the related responsibility of serving as a Big, and the potential positive impact they can have on a child “is a resumé builder” for high school students.
Saterbak said the key is the program’s one-to-one model, with interaction and learning on both sides. Saterbak believes it is equally beneficial for the older students, if not more for them.
Nguyen has been matched since October with Gobel, a fourth grader at Northside Intermediate.
Nguyen and Gobel said they enjoy making rainbow loom bracelets out of rubber bands, which Gobel especially appreciates because “you can basically make anything.”
“We’ve had matching bracelets,” Nguyen said.
Nguyen also Snapchats with Gobel and drives her and her brother, Keileb Gobel, home from school. And they work on puzzles, play board games, play cards and play games together in the school gym.
“I think there are definitely days we all come in on edge. There will be days she’ll come in and she’ll be excited to see me but there will be people who set her off and I will have to take her away and talk her through it,” Nguyen said.
Over time, she said they have grown to depend on each other.
“If I don’t show up on time, she’ll text me. I didn’t expect that close of a relationship,” Nguyen said.
It’s a closeness both feel. Gobel said spending time with Nguyen has helped her feel more comfortable around people.
“I’ve gotten a little better with my social anxiety. I used to be fully terrified of meeting new people, but I’ve started to be not as afraid and branch out,” Gobel said.
Other Bigs and Littles said they have come to feel that same type of closeness.
Hannah Chady, a junior at Milton High School, has been paired since October with fifth grader Kyrin Carroll. Saterbak said Carroll has “run the length of the school” to greet Chady.
“Hannah’s awesome,” Carroll said.
Carroll and Chady said they check in with each other on how their weekends went and throughout the week.
Chady said Carroll is talkative and “super sweet” and said she loves hanging out together. They play games, particularly with cards; play with slime; and do arts and crafts, including making rainbow loom bracelets.
“It’s really fulfilling to see that I’m making a difference in her life,” Chady said.
Sturdivant said he and Keileb Gobel like to play board games, especially Operation. The two make sure to have as much fun as possible, even if it means pushing the boundaries of the game rules.
In Operation, “I resort to sabotaging him by pressing the button every time he gets close,” Sturdivant said with a laugh.
“I still got it out,” Keileb Gobel said.
“I was distracted. That doesn’t count,” Sturdivant replied.
Sturdivant said before joining the program, he wasn’t involved in much outside of school.
“I was bored. I didn’t have anything to do so I figured I’d go hang out with some little kids. It’s better than staying home playing video games,” Sturdivant said.
He and Gobel have also played chess, and also played pool. Once, they went bowling.
“Keileb got frustrated because the lane we were on didn’t have the safety rails and he kept getting gutter balls, but he eventually did win,” Sturdivant recalls. And “eventually, my bowling magic ran out and I kept getting gutter balls.”
“I think it was pretty fun.”