Mentors needed for Big Brothers Big Sisters school lunchtime program
The first seeds planted to create friendships between students and trusted adults have sprouted, but more volunteers are needed to expand the program to all of Woodstock Community Unit School District 200’s elementary schools.
Big Brothers Big Sisters of McHenry County relaunched its lunchtime mentoring program in District 200 this past school year after the COVID-19 pandemic derailed the earlier attempt of a pilot effort at Westwood Elementary School.
The students are identified by school staff as children who might benefit from an adult mentoring relationship. Once each week, lunchtime Bigs meet with their Littles for one-on-one peer mentoring at their schools to play board games, help with homework or just to talk.
While school personnel do everything they can to provide social and emotional support for all students, it’s difficult to find time for consistent one-on-one mentoring, which is the purpose of the Big Brothers Big Sisters organization.
Unlike traditional Big and Little relationships, lunchtime matches strictly meet once each week in a school setting. Some volunteers prefer that structure as opposed to the larger commitment to becoming a community-based Big where Bigs and Little visit each other’s homes and go on outings.
Julie Dillon, chief financial officer for District 200, became a Big this school year and has enjoyed meeting her Little, Kaine, once each week at Westwood Elementary School. Dillon’s own children are adults now, and she said she misses the opportunity to be around kids.
“It helps me remember and focus on why we’re here and what we’re doing,” Dillon said. “And I love Westwood. All of my kids went there. I’m familiar with the teachers, and I volunteered as much as I could when my kids were in school.”
After asking a lot of open-ended questions, Dillon and Kaine learned how much they had in common. They play rock paper scissors to see whether they should play a game of Uno or Connect Four.
“Once he started talking, I think he really enjoyed the fact that he had one-on-one attention, which everybody does,” Dillon said. “We talked about families. We talked about pets, and that gave us a connection going forward.”
They’d often chat about their weekends, their families, what he was learning in school and how they’d both lost someone close to them. One day, Dillon said she was visiting Westwood for another reason and saw Kaine in the hallway. He walked up to say hello.
“I think it made him feel good to know that he had a connection with someone that was nobody else’s connection,” Dillon said. “He’s already asked if we can do it again next year.”
There were a total of six matches in District 200 last school year and 44 lunchtime matches at schools across McHenry County.
Karen Atkinson, site based program director for BBBS of McHenry County, said teachers are among the biggest advocates for the program because they see students return from lunch brimming with confidence and ready to learn.
“This is about starting a meaningful friendship and offering guidance to a student to help the Little reach his or her full potential,” she said.
Atkinson and District 200 are hoping to expand the lunchtime mentoring program to all six elementary schools in the near future, but they’ll need more Bigs to volunteer for the weekly meetings.
Bigs commit to an entire school year (September through May), must be at least 18, pass a background check, have a valid driver’s license, vehicle and insurance. They also must attend an interview and some training conducted by BBBS staff.
For more information, check out bbbsmchenry.org/lunch-time-mentoring. Anyone interested in becoming a lunchtime Big should contact Karen Atkinson at firstname.lastname@example.org or by phone at 815-385-3855.