Mentoring at the heart of local Big Brothers Big Sisters programs

Haley Gustafson | Daily Press Erin, center, a “Big” for Big Brothers Big Sisters of the Bay Area helps make cookies with mentoring students during the BBBS’ all-girls after school mentoring program at the Escanaba Upper Elementary Wednesday. Other students, shown from left, are Emma, Erin and Adriana.

ESCANABA — Big Brothers Big Sisters (BBBS) of the Bay Area has been a catalyst behind many of the mentoring programs in the local area. Beginning in 1980 as strictly a volunteer group in Delta County, BBBS has expanded to serve Delta, Dickinson, Florence, Marinette and Menominee counties. With January being National Mentoring Month, the organization is highlighting some of its mentoring efforts throughout the month.

According to Tanya Ettenhofer, executive director for BBBS of the Bay Area, the goal of the organization is to help kids who may be struggling and to provide support through various mentoring programs.

“Our mission is to provide children facing adversity with strong and enduring, professionally supported, one-to-one relationships that change their lives for the better, forever,” said Ettenhofer.

BBBS builds relationships by assisting in bettering relationships with family, peers, adults and others in the community, explained Ettenhofer.

The program also helps students academically by pairing up local children, a “Little” with a “Big,” or an adult. Traditional and high school BBBS are volunteers ages 16 and older, while area married couples offer family time to a child in the program.

Other types of mentors include corporate mentoring, having a school-based program, “Big for the day” where a “Big” is placed with an unmatched “Little” for the day and outdoor mentoring where volunteers and their matches explore and learn about the beauty of the great outdoors, noted Ettenhofer.

Every Wednesday, freshman and sophomores from Dave Wilson’s world history class go to Holy Name Catholic School to assist first graders with their Accelerated Reading program work. Wilson, an Escanaba High School teacher, has been a part of the reading mentoring program since 2000.

According to Wilson, the program has been in every school within the Escanaba School District, but the last three years the program has been held at Holy Name.

“It’s been a great program,” said Wilson.

During the weekly session, Wilson explained the first grade students and their high school buddies pair up and get to work on a reading assignment or help with an activity.

On special occasions, such as holidays, the “big” and “little” get to create an arts and crafts project together, noted Wilson.

Since beginning the new mentoring season at the beginning of October, Wilson said he sees both the older and younger students forming a bond and learning from each other.

“They certainly build a strong relationship with each other,” said Wilson, noting while the younger students are excited to see the high schoolers, the older students look forward to Wednesdays just as much.

Holy Name first grade teacher Michelle Carne said she has seen the benefits of the high schoolers and elementary students coming together.

“It’s just a really neat program for both groups of kids we have,” said Carne.

Carne explained elementary students really look up to the high schoolers, adding the youngsters even had the chance to tour the high school to get a feel of what their buddy’s secondary level of education is like.

The first graders even enjoy sharing about their day with their mentor buddy with their families, said Carne, noting this program gets both parties involved excited about school and learning.

A freshman involved with the reading program, Lisette, said this mentoring program not only helps the students academically, but also socially.

“It’s fun for all of us,” said Lisette. “It helps them develop reading skills and social skills.”

Big Brothers Big Sisters also hosts a girls after school mentoring program for fifth, sixth, and freshman girls on Wednesdays at the Escanaba Upper Elementary. Ettenhofer said the purpose of the group is to help young girls with self-esteem, social competence, the quality of relationship with parents, peers and other adults.

The after school program also promotes positive health behaviors, avoid risky health behaviors, and allows for career exploration.

During Wednesday’s session, the group of girls and their mentors created no-bake peanut butter and chocolate cookies together.

Ettenhofer noted a new pilot program, called “Bigs with Badges” will launch later this year. Kids will have the opportunity to spend time with a local law enforcement officer.

A local “little” named Matthew, whose last name could not be provided due to confidentiality reasons, said he has been a part of the BBBS program for eight years and it has helped him through troubling times in his life.

“Throughout my childhood I was never really given the chance to have one hundred percent faith and trust in one of my family members due to legal troubles and just family troubles in general; but Big Brothers Big Sisters was my safe haven,” said Matthew.

Matthew commented that his “big” has become one of his best friends throughout the years and having someone he can trust is a blessing.

“Throughout the years my big and I have grown closer and now I literally tell her everything that is going on with me at school, home, work, anything,” said Matthew.

In the future, Matthew said he wants to be a mentor for someone, so someone else can experience the joy of BBBS.

“I plan to be a mentor to someone when I get older, so I can repay the favor, to let someone in need know that I care,” said Matthew. “I will always cherish this program, and I highly encourage you to take part in this amazing experience.”

For more information about BBBS of the Bay Area, visit their website at www. or call their office at 789-0060.