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Spotlight: Get the ball rolling

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Submitted Photo At last year's Chaves County Bowl for Kids' Sake fundraiser for Big Brothers Big Sisters of Southeastern New Mexico 60 teams played. This year, the non-profit organization hopes to fill all three sessions with 70 teams.

Chaves County Bowl for Kids’ Sake turns 20

By Christina Stock

Vision Editor

The 20th annual Chaves County Bowl For Kids’ Sake is looking for support. The event takes place at Center City Lanes, April 18, and teams can start forming now to either raise the funds to participate as a team or for companies to sponsor their teams.

Bowl For Kids’ Sake has been brought to life by Big Brothers Big Sisters of Southeastern New Mexico (BBBS SENM) to help vulnerable children in Chaves County that have no positive adult role model to lead them.

BBBS is the largest provider of one-on-one mentoring service in the U.S. and recruits volunteers to be big brothers and big sisters, nicknamed Bigs, to these children, the Littles. It takes only four hours out of the month to help a child by simply going to a sports game, the movies, getting an ice cream together, or simply going on a walk or playing a game together. The major point is not to spend money, but that the child has some quality time and can talk to somebody about his or her life. It is focused on widening the child’s horizon to see that there is much more in Roswell and the world and that the child has potential. Right now, there are more than 3,000 vulnerable children in the county.

According to BBBS SENM, the life chances of the child vastly improves if there is a good role model. The U.S. organization can look back on more than 100 years of experience, BBBS SENM was established in Roswell in 2000. Together, research shows that after only 18 months in a Big/Little match, these kids are twice as likely as their peers to avoid drug use, perform better in school, and get along better at home and in the community.

Anybody who has recently visited the office of BBBS SENM, which is located at 1717 W. Second St., has seen a few new fresh faces, with the exemption of its executive director, Bill Wolf, who has been with BBBS SENM for eight years this year.

One of the new staff members is DeeDee Dennert, who was a mentor for after school programs in Michigan, Tennessee. She said, “When I moved here in April, I applied for a job here. My background is nonprofit, doing fundraising for 17 years. This is right up my alley.”

Kim Dezendorf has a background in billing, administration, clerical and graphic art. “I was a graphic artist for 20 years,” she said. “Of course, when we moved here, I started looking for a job. We are from Louisiana. Back home, I was kind of the neighborhood mom. Since I’ve had kids, I’ve always been the magnet for taking in all the strays, taking care of them, so when I was looking for jobs and this one came up, I thought, this is something I can get behind. My heart is here already, and — since I had the background in clerical and administration — this is a perfect fit for me.”

Christina Almanza returned from Las Cruces to the area. She is originally from Artesia and commutes to work. “I was a mentor in an internship in Las Cruces, I saw that they were hiring for a program specialist,” she said. “I already had the knowledge and background, so I thought I could try and do an interview. If I make it, it’s God’s calling, if I don’t then I would try something else.”

Almanza explained what it takes to match Bigs and Littles. “They need an in-person interview, at least a 12-month commitment for the Bigs and the Littles because we want to grow that relationship,” she said. “It takes at least six months for the Little to get comfortable and another six months to say, ‘Let’s do this, let’s have fun. Let’s go play.’ That’s when they come out of their shell. We want them to be matched for one year. After that, the Bigs need a background check and the parents get training as well and so do the Littles. So when something comes up like bullying, they know they can talk to their Big, mom, to their teacher, because they are going to be there to support them. Or if something happens with the Big, they can call the support specialist and then we help them transition.”

The annual Bowl For Kids’ Sake event is the primary fundraiser for BBBS SENM to make those matches happen, after all, there is no cost involved for any Big or the families of the Littles — instead BBBS SENM uses the raised funds to cover all expenses.

“It takes about $1,500 a year to mentor one child,” Dezendorf said. “That’s with having the background check, the training — the matches have to be supervised, that’s for Christina (Almanza) and others like her. Those are degreed professionals that supervise the match, check in periodically, and it takes a lot of money to mentor a child. So the more people, the better, and we would love to see more businesses getting involved and maybe even use it as a team-building thing for their company. For the employees to get together and compete within their company, just to have more people to be involved. I think that would be a cool thing.”

Asked how last year’s event went, Wolf said, “We had three sessions, 22 lanes. Probably about 60 teams, five people per team. The teams are made out of people being sponsored. We had a company that had six teams last year. I like that because once people do it once, they love it and they want to come back.”

Wolf said that he had talked with a bank customer about the event, she said, “Oh yeah, that’s the most fun we ever had. Every year everybody looks forward to that.”

“We have prizes, during each session, we have drawings, free pizza, and if they want to have beer, they serve it there. That’s the reason why we went away with the kids that day because there is alcohol. We don’t serve it but there is alcohol available at the event,” Wolf said.

The Littles and Bigs meet a day before to have an evening of bowling, and there are also a lot of prizes for them, Wolf said.

Asked if there had been any changes in the families and children since Wolf joined, he said, “One thing I’ve noticed, there is a lot more of awareness among society about the fragility of children — that’s come to light because of all the internet, Facebook. We are in a society where you can’t shield your children anymore. That’s been the main thing. I think parents’ responsibility and influence has been seriously affected by this. They don’t get to parent. Usually, you would listen to your mom and dad — now you listen to all the friends and everything else. To me, that is the main change in the kids.

“Our program requires one-to-one time together and in some situations, in rural areas that can be kind of tough. We’ve got programs in Dexter with the schools so we can reach children there. But a lot of times in rural areas you don’t have a lot of services. Like the mental health for kids in Roswell is not very good,” Wolf said.

“The main thing that we do is to let kids see the potential that they have and the opportunities that are available to them, that they might never know about,” Wolf said. “A lot of these kids don’t even know that they have potential. We got to have stability. Once a child is assigned to somebody like Christina (Almanza), she’s assigned to that child, and the family is assigned to her and the Big is assigned to her. So you got that continuity of all three parties getting to know each other.

“We have a requirement (for BBBS SENM staff), that everybody who works with kids has to have a four-year degree, and all the people we have have social work/psychology-type degrees,” Wolf said.

There are 31 children waiting right now for a Big. Wolf explained that the matching is not as easy as one would think. “The thing is, people think you’ve got five kids and five adults (for five matches), but you don’t have five matches. It doesn’t do you good to just pick a kid and an adult. That’s the reason why we interview. To make sure that the matches are long and strong,” he said.

Asked what happens if a match doesn’t work, Almanza said, “Usually, we bring them in to see how we can resolve the issue and if the parent doesn’t want to be a part of it then, unfortunately, the match will have to close and I’ll have to go through every interview to see why the first match didn’t work and what we can do better as program specialists. We don’t give up on the child or volunteer, but sometimes the family clashes and we hope to resolve it, but if we can’t we just have to close it. Sometimes it just comes down to chemistry.”

“That’s another reason why we contact the parent every month, the Little and the Big,” Wolf said. “Just to make sure everything is going smooth, primarily for child safety. If the Big says they did something and the Little says something else, that’s kind of a red flag going up. Generally, the Bigs don’t know that they are having a positive effect on a child.”

According to Almanza, the first check-ins are every two weeks after the match was made, then once monthly.

Asked about the background of the Littles, Wolf said, “I was looking at statistics, about 70% of our matches, the Littles are from a minority. Of course, in Roswell, it’s not a minority, but statistically 54% qualified for free lunches, about 60% are living in non-typical family environments. Generally, one parent or grandparent, I’ve even seen where it’s great-grandparents, and some kids we had are in foster care and transient.”

Asked what the fundraising for Bowling for Kids’ Sake will involve, Dezendorf said, “Really, anybody can make a team. We have these sponsorship levels and if you want to have a team, you just can do a team, it’s $500 for a five-person team. We have corporate sponsors and they can do $1,000 level, that gives them one team and logo placement on our website and banners and different things.

“Each person on the team can go out and raise $100 and then together, the five-person team would have their $500 donation to have a team to bowl. They don’t have to stop at $100 — there are prizes for the top fundraising individual and the top fundraising team. There is going to be door prizes, randomly drawing names throughout the event. We love donated door prizes. Any of that stuff that we could get to give as prizes is super helpful, too,” Dezendorf said and laughed.

There is a change this year for the raffle. “We are going to do a Chinese raffle this year,” Dennert said. “Instead of raffle tickets, there will be a basket or a bucket in front of the item and then you can put as many tickets as you want in for that item. This way they can pick what they want and hopefully buy more tickets. And we’ll have 50/50 tickets as well.”

“Most of our money comes from sponsors. I’d like it to come more from people that are just out there raising teams, but for some people that works, and for some it doesn’t. Everybody knows when we walk in the door, OK, it’s that time of year again. We get a lot of support of the community,” Wolf said.

For more information, or to register a team, visit bbbssenm.org, email info@bbbssenm.org or call 575-627-2227. Registration deadline is April 6 to get sponsor logos for the posters, banners and for team T-shirt orders processed on time.