Organization searches USF for Big Brothers and Sisters

Wanting to broaden people’s horizons by offering the opportunity to mentor a child in need, the Big Brothers Big Sisters organization of Tampa Bay came to USF to find volunteers to join its cause.

Big Brothers Big Sisters of Tampa Bay, Inc. held a mentor training session Friday afternoon in the Phyllis P. Marshall Center. Lorie Briggs, vice president of community relations for Big Brothers Big Sisters, conducted the volunteer orientation for USF students who recently became involved with the organization.

According to Briggs, Big Brothers Big Sisters primarily recruited students for two of its programs.

“Our traditional, community-based program is initiated by the parents of the kids involved and entails volunteers hanging out with the kids for a few hours a week outside of school,” Briggs said. “The other program that most students apply for is a site-based program called Bigs in Schools.”

In this program, adult volunteers spend an hour each week at the grade school of their little brother or sister. Sometimes, the children require tutoring, but more frequently they just need “an adult friend to talk to and to spend time with,” Briggs said.

Big Brothers Big Sisters sponsors many other programs. For example, Project CARE is offered for children who are infected with the HIV virus or are the children of HIV/AIDS-infected parents. Project DOVE was created for kids who have witnessed domestic violence in the home. The program starts when the abused parent has left his or her partner and wants to expose their child to a positive role model.

Life Choices is a program for girls who are at risk for teenage pregnancy. Big Brothers Big Sisters determines if a girl is at risk by evaluating her personal influences. If the child’s mother or sister was a teenage parent, the child is labeled “at risk” and recommended for the program, Briggs said.

There are currently 1,063 active volunteers in the program, according to Briggs, but about 500 children are still on a waiting list, most of them ranging between the ages of 9 and 11 years old.

“We have more female volunteers than male, so while girls get matched to a big sister within a few weeks, there are boys who wait for big brothers for years,” Briggs said.

The organization will match a boy between the ages of 8 to 10 with a big sister, but it prefers to pair the older boys with a male volunteer because, Briggs said, mothers often get their young sons in the program because of a lack of a strong male presence.

The children in the program are interviewed to discover their special needs, said Briggs.

“We evaluate their likes, dislikes and hobbies in order to perfectly match the children with a compatible ‘Big.'”

The enrollment process for volunteers is slightly more complicated. A potential volunteer fills out an application and is then interviewed. There is a background check and references are contacted. Volunteers are trained and matched before the person is officially paired with a child.

Graduate student Kelly McCormack, who was present at the training session, said she enjoys working with children and she is enthusiastic to work with Big Brothers Big Sisters.

“It’s very important to donate your time to help others, and it is especially good to volunteer with children,” she said. “I used to volunteer at an elementary school, and I would encourage other students to become involved with Big Brothers Big Sisters.”