Tanya Schuster, Big Brothers Big Sisters of the Bay Area, said youngsters often lack what most take for granted — someone who consistently sees the good in them, helps them to understand their world and listens.
“Studies show that children who enroll in our program are more confident, more likely to stay away from drugs and alcohol, do better in school and get along better with family and friends,” said Schuster.
Schuster said people often decide not to mentor because they have misconceptions.
“One is that a mentor has to have a big job or high standing in the community,” she said. “Kids do not care about titles — only the caring and commitment.”
Schuster said another misconception she has noticed is it takes too much time to be a mentor.
“Our volunteers spend four to six hours a month with their littles,” she said. “It’s the quality of time spent that counts, not the quantity.”
Schuster said the first step in becoming a mentor is to contact BBBS of the Bay Area. They will then conduct an interview with the person who is interested in becoming a “big.”
“We usually set up an orientation to meet with the person who is interested in having a ‘little,’” Schuster said. “We try to match you according to your interests and hobbies and personalities.”
To become a big brother or sister or to enroll your child in the program, call Big Brothers Big Sisters of the Bay Area at (906) 789-0060.
Another way to mentor locally is to go through the Michigan State University Extension office in Delta County. Dave Radloff, extension educator for 4-H youth development, said 4-H doesn’t have the one-on-one mentorship like BBBS, but adults still mentor youths as part of the 4-H club structure.
“All of our clubs have an adult in a positive role model leadership role,” Radloff said.
Radloff said all of the MSU Extension’s leaders and volunteers go through the MSU volunteer selection process, which includes a criminal history background check and a police check of the Michigan Public Sex Offender Registry (MPSOR).
“We make sure none of our leaders appear on the MPSOR list,” Radloff said.
“But what you would do if you were interested in volunteering would be to come in and fill out a volunteer application,” he said. “It goes through and asks what are you skills, what age kids you’d like to work with and how often you’d like to work with kids, and then we look to see if we have an existing club structure or program that you would fit in.”
Radloff said MSU 4-H currently has 30 clubs in Delta County, including livestock, traditional sewing and knitting, gardening, archery, BB gun and .22 clubs.
“The coolest thing about 4-H is if an adult has an interest, somewhere in out project area that interest will be listed,” Radloff said. “And we match them with kids who have the same interests. We have about 100 different project areas, so we can match pretty much anything and everything.”
Radloff said the goal of MSU 4-H is sustained contact between an adult or an older teen and a child, allowing them to build a relationship.
“4-H is centered around projects,” he said. “The project is the venue through which the relationship can be built.”
MSU 4-H currently has 375 registered club members (children in 4-H clubs), 23 youth volunteers (teens 1 -19), and 197 adult volunteers in Delta County.
“Last year alone we reached 12,173 youths through programs, camps, in school activities and after school programs,” Radloff said.
The youth volunteer program is based somewhat on the concept of peer mentoring, but they also mentor younger children than themselves.
“Our goal there is to try to build a mentorship there and get those teens involved in teaching younger kids,” Radloff said. “They get some leadership experience out of it too.”
Anyone interested in mentoring or joining a club through 4-H can reach the Delta County MSU extension office at (906) 786-3032.
Theresa Nelson, Community Action Agency, said CAA operates a good mentoring program for senior citizens called the “Reading Buddies Program.”
“It’s a one-on-one program where retired and senior volunteers, people 55 and older, volunteer (RSVP) in the community to read to elementary school kids,” Nelson said. “It’s wonderful, and it’s our 11th year doing this at Cameron School.”
At Gladstone’s Cameron School the volunteers read to first graders in Sue Jamison’s class. Jamison said the program has a positive effect on students and volunteers.
“During the school year a special relationship grows,” she said. “The love of reading is shared and the self-confidence of the children becomes stronger. The children look forward to seeing their reading buddy each week.”
Cecilia Chie, Gladstone, is in her second year of volunteering in the program.
“It’s fun to work with the kids. To see how they start out at the beginning of the year, how they progress — it’s very rewarding,” said Chie. “And they have fun with us too.”
Eric Leonoff, Chie’s reading buddy, held up “The Foot Book” by Dr. Seuss and said that was the book they were reading that day.
“I have a good time,” he said. “We read books and we do some schoolwork (together too).”
Chie said the once-a-week reading program is a more relaxed setting for them to learn in.
“It’s a big deal to the kids,” she said. “They look forward to it.”
The program has been such a success, said Nelson, that Rapid River Schools approached them this year to start a Reading Buddies Program for second graders at their school.
Anyone interested in the RSVP volunteer program can contact Community Action at (906) 786-7080.
Schuster said volunteering just a few hours a couple of times per month can make a big difference in a child’s life, and can also be a rewarding experience for the mentor.
“This year, if you become a mentor it may be the one resolution you will want to keep,” said Schuster.
Cecilia Chie, Gladstone, helps Cameron school first-grader Eric Leonoff with his weekly spelling list. (Daily Press photo by Audrey LaFave)