Big Brothers and Sisters mentors children in need

Sarah Colvin

Making a difference in a child’s life is what Big Brothers and Sisters of Portage County strives to do.

The program is a one-to-one youth mentoring program, and the Portage County chapter is one of 504 chapters throughout the United States.

The agency recruits and matches adult volunteers with a child of the same sex between the ages of 6 to 17 years old, said Ron Kilchenman, associate director of the Portage County agency.

The agency currently has 85 children matched with a volunteer, but 80 more are on a waiting list.

Beth Watson, senior psychology major and Big Brothers and Sisters volunteer, is one of five volunteers who was matched recently with a child.

Watson said she mentors an 8-year-old-girl because her parents have health issues and they can’t be as active as they would like to be in her life.

A lot of children in this program are from single parent homes, Kilchenman said.

Some children have been abused, have developmental disabilities, mental retardation or face other issues, Watson said.

“This agency is well respected in the community as a good, caring children’s non-profit agency,” Kilchenman said. “We have made a big difference in the lives of many, many children.”

She said the Big Brothers and Sisters agency wants volunteers to meet with their little at least 12 hours a month and sign up for a year commitment with that child.

Watson said she usually sees her little three hours a week.

The big and little can do many different activities together, Watson said, including getting food or ice cream together.

“We’ve also gone bowling, miniature golfing, watched movies at my house, played on the playground and went to the Cleveland Zoo,” she said.

Kilchenman said the bigs don’t have to spend money if they don’t have it.

He said they can play sports together, play board games or just hang out and talk to each other.

It’s important to be available for the child and be a stable person in his or her life, Watson said.

The kids just want some attention and to know that someone cares about them, Kilchenman said.

“For the littles, I think it’s really beneficial to have a stable person in their life and someone to be there to talk to them,” Watson said. “For the bigs, it’s a very rewarding experience.”

“Many of the kids have been taught or given self-confidence by their big brother or big sister,” Kilchenman said. “They gain trust in adults and gain lifetime friendships.”

Watson said, “I think it’s a great idea that anyone can sign up for this if they feel they want to help children out.”

Girls are matched faster with a mentor because there are more female volunteers. But 65 out of the 80 children on the waiting list are boys. The agency needs to recruit more male volunteers, Kilchenman said.

“We’ve watched children grow both physically and emotionally,” he said. “It’s been a joy of mine to work here.”

Contact buildings and transportation reporter Sarah Colvin at [email protected].