Year commitment changes strangers to ‘sisters’ for life

Liz Laubscher

Sophomore business major Stephanie Cardarelli sits with her Little Sister, Chloe, in the locomotive in the children’s section of the Kent Free Library yesterday afternoon. Cardarelli helps Chloe with homework and going to the library, among other things.

Credit: DKS Editors

Editor’s note: The last name of the little sister, Chloe, was omitted because of privacy reasons. Chloe’s mom, Charlotte Sparks, has a different last name.

Sophomore business major Stephanie Cardarelli decided she wanted to be a big sister. She didn’t ask her parents to have another child, but she did sign up to be a mentor for a girl through Big Brothers and Sisters of Portage County.

Big Brothers and Sisters has been in Portage County since 1980 and has matched more than 13,000 children with mentors.

Ron Kilchenman, associate director for Big Brothers and Sisters of Portage County, said the organization appreciates anyone who volunteers his or her time.

“It’s a one-to-one mentoring program,” Kilchenman said. “The volunteer calls the child in advance and schedules a date and time to go out. They pick up the child and then they’ll go to a movie, go to a play, go for a walk in the park, play board games, shoot hoops, toss a Frisbee, whatever the Big and Little enjoy.”

Kilchenman said the only requirements are to be at least 18-years-old, out of high school, and pass a background check. They also do a series of phone and in-person interviews so they can pair the volunteer with the right child.

Big Brothers and Sisters also asks for a one-year commitment from the volunteer. Kilchenman said they would accommodate for students who aren’t from Portage County and go home during breaks. Big brothers and sisters should tell the organization of their plans ahead of time and to keep in touch with the child while away.

Kilchenman said the program is in need of more volunteers.

“We have 85 kids currently matched with a Big Brother or Big Sister, but we have close to another 100 more on a waiting list,” Kilchenman said. “That means that we are trying to recruit 90-100 more volunteers so we can match up all the kids in the program.”

Cardarelli saw a Big Brothers and Sisters ad in the Stater and decided to inquire about it. She has worked with children the past two summers at a day camp and really enjoyed it. She said she thought she would also enjoy becoming a Big Sister.

“I was afraid I wasn’t going to be good enough, but realized just being there is the most important thing,” Caradelli said. “It’s all the child can ask of you.”

Caradelli has only been a mentor to her Little Sister Chloe since the end of August. She said in that short time she found how rewarding the experience is.

“They look up to you and it’s a really good feeling,” Caradelli said “You don’t realize how much of a difference you are making. They really look up to you and what you’re doing and they want to do it too. So, if you are doing the right thing and telling them the right things they will believe you and try to do those same things.”

She also said that she is amazed how close she has become to Chloe since they met. She said she feels like she has known Chloe and her family forever.

“You do grow a really close bond and attachment if you get along,” Caradelli said. “I don’t see how someone could just do it for a year and then just say ‘see you later’ . it would just be too hard.”

Caradelli said she keeps a log of the time she and Chloe spend together. She said she wants to remember their time together.

Cardarelli said she wishes more people would get involved with Big Brothers and Sisters.

“Some people just don’t want to make that long commitment,” Caradelli said, “but it really isn’t that bad. I was worried about the time thing, too. You just learn to fit it in. Once they got started with it they would be really glad they did it.”

Charlotte Sparks, Chloe’s mom, said she thinks the program is great for children in the community.

Sparks is a single mother of three and said she signed all of her kids up with Big Brothers and Sisters. She said she was especially looking to get her two sons a male figure to look up to. She couldn’t sign them up without signing up her daughter. However, Chloe is the only one who has been matched with a volunteer.

Sparks said she really enjoys what the program has done for Chloe and how much Chloe has enjoyed it.

“I think it’s always good for kids to hang out with other adults that aren’t the parent,” Sparks said. “(Chloe) really looks up to Stephanie.”

Sparks said Chloe talks about Caradelli a lot – even how cool Caradelli’s tissues were in her car because they were pink. She also said Chloe talks about the plans they make from the time they decide what to do until they do it.

Caradelli said she also enjoys the time she spends with Chloe, and she hopes to stay in contact with her for more than the year commitment. She doesn’t think she would be able to not talk to her anymore.

Kilchenman said it’s common for volunteers in the program to feel that way. He said that, on average, the pair stays in contact for about two and a half years. He said there has been some incidents where they have stayed in contact for the rest of their lives.

Kilchenman said he can recall one pair of sisters that were in each other’s weddings. He said the little sister was in the big sister’s wedding, and 10 years later the big sister was in the little sister’s wedding. Although that situation is unique, Kilchenman said a long-term relationship like that is always hoped for.

If interested in becoming a mentor to a child in the community, contact Big Brothers and Sisters at (330)296-6655.

Contact social services reporter Liz Laubscher at [email protected]