Since opening in 2000, Big Brothers Big Sisters of Southeastern New Mexico/Chaves County has been matching at-risk children (Littles), ages 5-17, with adult volunteers (Bigs) in meaningful, mentoring relationships. Their mentoring program is offered free of charge to the families they serve in Chaves County.
The annual event covers half of the agency’s funding and takes place April 28 at Center City Lanes, 3905 SE Main St., starting at 11 a.m. Deadline to sign up for teams or to sponsor the event is April 13.
The event date was selected to not interfere with prom, homecoming or any other event.
The small team of local Big Brothers Big Sisters has six employees who are working hard to find volunteers, do background checks and bring Bigs and Littles together. Four are in Roswell, one in Artesia and one person, Tina Lynn, who does phone and email support for the matches out of Raton. The Roswell office is in charge of organizing the bowling fundraising. Team members organizing this year’s event are Celia Fisher, Gin Hatfield, Natalie Perez and Bill Wolf.
Asked about last year’s support, Wolf said, “We did better last year than the year before, but last year was a tough year for us because we got cut. Our total corporate giving was down. Our funding from the state was down.”
“A lot of our sponsors cut back, but we got more sponsors, and that made up for it,” Hatfield said.
The earlier sponsors sign up, the better, Celia Fisher said. There are different levels of sponsorships, from pin sponsors who will get their name printed on the poster at the event, to strike sponsor, who gets the entire package including their name on the T-shirts, posters and banners and three teams who can play.
Big Brothers Big Sisters is accepting donations for prizes as well.
“We get big pictures, we get lamps, coolers, tons of gift certificates, so I put little packages together to do the silent auction,” Hatfield said. Everything is appreciated. “Jewelry, kids’ toys, anything you can imagine,” she said.
“This year, I am cutting them back a little bit and have better prizes for the people who are raising the money. They are going to get really good stuff,” Hatfield said.
“We have a really nice Ruidoso package. It’s hotel, golf, massage, dinner and Spencer Theatre tickets. I have a guy, his mission is to win it this year,” Hatfield said and laughed. “He is already excited.”
The Bowl For Kids’ Sake this year will be in honor of all heroes who wear a badge or uniform.
The event itself is unique in not being a golf tournament, which many other charities do.
“It’s a really fun time,” Wolf said. “People who have done it once usually come back and do it again, just because it is so fun.”
Companies and individuals participating form teams of five people. They can decide on their fundraising goals, invite friends to bowl or support them. Each team member is supposed to raise $100 minimum as donation. The team that has the highest amount can win a prize.
“We give away some pretty good prizes to the teams that raise the most money,” Wolf said. “Naturally we hope they will raise more than $100.”
“It’s going to be fun,” Hatfield said. “I’ve already got Army recruiters coming. They are just coming to hang out in civilian clothes with the kids. I talked to the police department, they are talking about coming out and I left a message with the fire chief. I want to get all the military that I can, all the police, fire departments, EMTs. It fits with this year’s theme, ‘Heroes don’t always wear capes … they also wear badges and uniforms.’”
There will be also cheerleaders attending and according to Hatfield, art students from Roswell High are going to paint bowling pins. “I am pretty excited about this because these will be trophies,” she said. Hatfield is also planning to have burgers and hot dogs instead of pizza this year; this will depend on the weather. “We often have bad weather, so pizza is still on the back burner,” she said.
Last year, they had a record participation number with more than 300 persons, 65 teams and four sessions with an extra session for the Bigs and Littles. BBBSSENM is hoping for at least the same in numbers or more.
In 2017, 220 children were matched to Bigs, but there is a much larger need in the area for mentors.
According to New Mexico’s Indicator-Based Information System website monitoring New Mexico, children under the age of 17 living in poverty stands in 2017 at 27.2 percent. 30 percent higher than the U.S. rate of 20.7 percent. In the northwest of Roswell, it is 27.5 percent, in Roswell’s southeast, it is 42.1 percent and in the surrounding areas of Chaves County, it is 36.6 percent. In numbers, that is 6,061 children.
What does it mean to match a Big with a Little?
The children matched often come from single-parent households and some come from families who never went to high school. The most hopeless children needing support have parents who are in jail and the children were put in foster homes.
Imagine a child that has nobody to guide them, nobody who will listen. Nobody who will take them for ice cream or go to the library. This is where the BBBS program steps in.
“Kids are born into situations they have no control over and if no one in their family ever graduated from high school, they may not even know the importance of that,” Wolf said. “But if you get them together with somebody who is outside of their environment and expose them to different things, then that’s where their eyes get opened up and they may say, ‘I don’t have to stay in Dexter, I may go to college.’”
“Seventy percent of kids we are serving now are considered as living in poverty. From the levels, what I see 60 to 70 percent are minorities and most of those are hispanic,” Wolf said.
According to Perez, there are a lot of children in foster care. The only highlight of those children is to have a Big Sister or Big Brother in their life.
BBBS spends $1,500 a year for every child, which includes Perez’ time to interview, opening and maintaining the match, recruiting, follow up and background checks.
“We need Bigs and bucks,” Wolf said and laughed. It is easier to find Big Sisters for the girls, but there are not enough male Bigs to match with the boys.
“Our program works, there have been two studies that show kids in our program are more likely to graduate from school, they are less likely to use drugs, they get along better with their peers and their family,” Wolf said. “It’s just a lot of plusses that comes out of that program. The reason is because we match one adult to one child.”
Bigs can come from all walks of life. “Usually we like to have Bigs from a variety of backgrounds,” Perez said. “There isn’t a certain criteria to our volunteers. When we match a Little and a Big, we look for personality. We look at the needs that the Little has and then what the Big can bring to the match.
Asked if the Big needs to have a certain level of education, Perez said, “If we would ask all our Bigs if they have a bachelor’s degree, our pool would be very limited. We want to show these kids that there are differences in life and what all they can do to be successful in life and reach their potential. The person that volunteers with us has to have the drive and motivation to be in the program and want to help.”
“Of course, the primary thing is background checks,” Wolfe said. “That is our No. 1 priority — child safety. That is the reason why we do extensive background checks on all our volunteers. Multi-layered background checks and then FBI fingerprint background checks and we do them every two years.”
There are several programs, one is a class at school in Dexter where high school students are the Bigs visiting their Little at the elementary school, the others are in Roswell. It is divided between ages of the Bigs.
“If you are in high school, you have to be 16 or older and if you want to be in the community program, you have to be 18 or over, spend at least four hours a month with your Little,” Perez said. “You have to be committed to the program to be a Big Brother or Big Sister for at least a year and have reliable transportation as they would be picking up the Littles from their home and taking them out to activities — that’s the community-based.
“For the school, they just have to walk or drive to the school. Usually the kids from Goddard go to Del Norte, the kids from NMMI go to Military Heights and the kids from Roswell High go to Valley View. It’s all within walking distance,” Perez said.
A few hours a month doesn’t mean a lot, that is unless you use those few hours and reach out to a child.
To help children means to break the circle of poverty, hopelessness and to show that every child is important and can fulfill his or her potential.
People who want to support Bowl for Kids’ Sake or would like to volunteer can get more information by calling 627-2227 or emailing email@example.com.
Vision editor Christina Stock may be contacted at 575-622-7710, ext. 309, or at firstname.lastname@example.org.