Story By Stephanie Kalina-Metzger
When it comes to the life of a child, the importance of mentoring cannot be overstated. Studies show that mentors are important for increasing self-esteem, improving school performance, establishing better social skills, and decreasing risk behaviors.
Those who volunteer and work at Big Brothers Big Sisters Capital Region (BBBSCR) know this firsthand. The non-profit, whose mission is to support one-on-one mentoring relationships, has been responsible for many beautiful and blossoming friendships between ‘Bigs’ and ‘Littles’ for 40 years now.
Mary Murphy, Development Director BBBSCR, said that the organization is facing a dire need post-COVID for more ‘Bigs,’ who were a lifeline during COVID. “We contacted everyone virtually and encouraged Zoom meetings,” she said.
Kelly Garrison’s 11-year-old daughter Aubree is enrolled in the program. “Aubree and her Big Sister Raina met on Zoom during the pandemic and Raina never missed a beat, even dropping crafts off on the porch for her,” said Garrison. Now that they are together in person again, they have been quite active, according to Garrison. “They recently participated in a ‘Girls on the Run’ 5K marathon together,” Garrison said, adding that she views Raina as an extension of the family, and she’s seen her little girl shine as a result of the relationship.
Raina McGeorge, who lives in Susquehanna Township, said that she enjoys spending time with Aubree and hopes others will understand that the time and money commitment are minimal. And for those who prefer to meet ‘Littles’ outside of their homes, there’s a school-based program where ‘Bigs’ can meet their ‘Little’ at school for lunch on a day that works with their schedule.
Raina explains that she sees Aubree twice a month and they do low-to-no-cost things, like going to playgrounds, to coffee shops and bakeries and to BBBS-sponsored programs where they meet up with other matches. “We’re silly and laugh a lot. It feels good to share these experiences with her and see our relationship evolve,” said McGeorge.
Larry Asu is a ‘Big’ who has been matched with Peter, who has a mild form of ADHD. Peter becomes animated when he talks about Asu. “I just love to hang out with him, ride bikes, watch movies and he’s funny and energetic too, and I can call him when I’m feeling kind of bad,” said Peter. Asu sometimes counsels Peter when he’s being bullied. “I tell him to forgive them and take the high road,” Asu said.
Murphy hears stories like these on a regular basis and sees firsthand the good the ‘Bigs’ do for their ‘Littles.’ “The mental health crisis right now is critical, post pandemic, but these kids were resilient, and the majority of our matches maintained a relationship during COVID,” said Murphy, stating that the organization serves between 500-700 kids in the Cumberland, Dauphin, Lancaster, Lebanon, and Perry region.
Becoming a ‘Big’
Becoming a ‘Big’ is as easy as consulting BBBSCR and filling out an application, attending an interview, obtaining clearances (which BBBSCR pays for) and submitting three references to speak on your behalf. “After we make the match, we support that match with monthly calls to discuss how things are going,” said Krystina Schultz, Communications & Marketing Manager.
Murphy said that BBBSCR has spent the last 40 years seeing children flourish as a result of the program. “We see the impact mentors have on families and their siblings and the positivity these relationships bring to everyone involved and are happy to be there to support these very important relationships.”
To learn about the many other BBBSCR initiatives and the various ways you can become involved, visit their website at Home – Big Brothers Big Sisters (capbigs.org).