Copyright © 2021 Roswell Daily Record
Copyright © 2021 Roswell Daily Record
Big Brothers Big Sisters of Southeastern New Mexico in need of volunteers
By Christina Stock
Many charitable and nonprofit organizations have suffered, receiving less donations since the pandemic started. Many found new ways to reach out to the public by holding virtual fundraisers and events. This is not possible for Big Brothers Big Sisters of Southeastern New Mexico (BBBSSNM). More so than other organizations, BBBSSNM’s success in helping local at-risk children, ages 5 to 17, is directly linked to finding volunteers, called Bigs, who are willing to give four hours a month to a child, called Little. At press time, there were 47 children on the waitlist. These children are considered at-risk. They may have nobody to listen to them or encourage them. They come from all kinds of walks of life: Parents working several jobs, some being completely absent; having many siblings so that their needs are forgotten, or they may be having a tough time at school.
BBBSSNM Program Director Amanda Ware said, “We have six Bigs that we’re processing and that’s it. So there is a big difference. We need more Bigs.”
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Bill Wolf is the CEO of the organization that started in 2000. He said that usually there are 100 children on the waitlist, but he expects the numbers to rise when teachers and councilors at the reopened schools start referring children and their families to BBBSSNM again.
“Now that school’s open, teachers have a monstrous job to tackle, getting these children reacclimated to the classroom setting, because they’ve been a year willy-nilly. It is hard to take a child that has free access to get up and go to the bathroom when they want, get up and eat when they want, and put them in a structured classroom. Even getting them into the habit of attending class,” Ware said.
BBBSSNM is established in Artesia and is also covering small communities such as Dexter and Hagerman. Stacy Heacox is the regional match coordinator. She said, “I have a good friend in Artesia, she’s a teacher, and she teaches eighth and ninth grade. Ninth grade is when everything starts to count toward high school. Her eighth graders that they are trying to get prepared for high school are more like seventh graders. There’s a year gap in maturity, so in Artesia they had an assembly for all students — including the ones who’d chosen to distance learning even when school resumed — she had kids crying because they couldn’t handle the registration process. They were so overwhelmed, which is not a normal behavior for a student that is about to transition to a freshman in high school. One of those kids was one on my caseload. She had a hard time with depression even before COVID, so I texted her periodically just to check in and asked, ‘Hey, how are you doing?’ And she was like, ‘I am not doing good.’ Her parents don’t speak English and she translates everything. They leave it all up to her and she got very overwhelmed, I was able to call the school teacher and get the instructions and walk the kid through, but because her parents are elderly and afraid of COVID, she’s barely left the house in over a year.”
This is just one example of a child that wouldn’t have anybody to help and give encouragement, if it wasn’t for the Big Sister, in this case Heacox. If another Big encounters anything like this, they can talk to Heacox, or any of the other match coordinators and they will be able to contact the teacher. Bigs are guided throughout their time with their Little. Being matched means a great fit. Ware said, “We don’t match you and leave you.”
Also, the Big doesn’t have to have any experience in being a counselor or even being a tutor. “They just need to show up,” Heacox said. Though, due to the pandemic, showing up means something different this year. “We have a COVID policy in terms of enrolling the mentors, we give them the option of doing it in person, both masked and social distanced, or over Zoom. And we redefine what meaningful contact looks like. It used to be in person, one-on-one, but we learned, texting, phone calls, Zoom meetings, dropping off care packages, all of these things can be part of the match relationship.
“We’ve also found that people are getting very creative about using outdoor resources that were underused before. Everyone of the matches that I have in Chaves County has gone out to the bird refuge, which is cool because that was not the kind of activity I was getting before and so, in a way, it (COVID-19) has forced our Bigs to get creative and access natural resources, which is good,” Heacox said.
Each employee working for BBBSSNM is trained, often has degrees and experience in child development and social services and brings with them unique qualities. This came in handy when the pandemic hit. Heacox became the go-to person for anything online, setting up virtual scavenger hunts, trivia night and even a fun Valentine’s Day event.
“Cyndi (Grado) works in the Artesia office with me,” Heacox said, “She is the resource queen. If a family needed something and didn’t know where to get it, she would hunt down that resource and make sure that they have it. She has two teenagers, which I’ve heard can be expensive, she is the thriftiest shopper in the world. She would put together care packages and they were nice and elaborate and she just knew how to Dollar Tree it up, just without spending a lot of money, taking stuff to the kids. That was something she did.
“Robin (Bever) is our creative employee. We were checking on kids and going on adventures with pet dragons so she could figure out how to keep conversations going with kids that wouldn’t talk. What kind of adventure should the Big take this kid on, what’s their match with the littler kids,” she said.
Any new volunteer Big will be matched to a Little, depending on their interests and compatibility, it is not random. “You’ll never get a kid that you have nothing in common with,” Heacox said. There are more boys in the need of mentorship than girls at the time.
Before the matching, the Big undergoes a thorough background check and interview, either virtual or in-person, depending on the circumstances and COVID-19 safety regulations.
Asked if BBBSSNM accepts anybody who may have been a juvenile delinquent, Ware said, “We have hard stops that put you into contention. I think people know that when they apply. Having dings on your background check won’t necessarily exclude you. It depends on the circumstance and you get to talk to the person who’s interviewing you (about) what might have happened — how you might have learned from that.”
Heacox said that one of the volunteers had committed a DUI when he was 21, nobody was hurt, and he had no other encounters with the law the following 25 years. He disclosed it and was accepted. Actually, a Big that had overcome something in his or her life would be able to connect better with a Little. “Littles turn around and apply as Bigs,” she said. “Some of these kids made mistakes. I have a wonderful little girl, never gotten in trouble in her life, except one time. Her and her friends were being silly and tagged some stuff. They weren’t even graffiti but were messing around with spray paint, spraypainting each other and gotten some of it on the property of an apartment. Then there was another kid walking by and they sprayed him, so they got her on assault and property damage. She had a very scared-straight experience. If she were to grow up and apply when she gets into high school, I would not not take her because otherwise she’s good.”
“People can learn from their mistakes and those are good volunteers, somebody who comes from some place rough, who made bad choices can help kids to work it through,” Ware said.
There is also a big benefit for volunteers. The connection with their Little often becomes a deep friendship. The social distancing may have disrupted it, but as soon as vaccines were available, one of those Bigs signed up for it to be able to meet with her Little at a community garden event in Artesia.
“I was watching when they looked at each other,” Heacox said. “The expression on both of their faces was just priceless. How much it (the bond) matters, even after not seeing each other for a year. She (the Little) is so sweet, she never found somebody she could bond with like her Big Sister. She told me when she gets depressed she sleeps a lot. She said, my Big Sister gives me energy.”
A phone call or text can make the difference, encourage the children and replace any negativity in their lives with positives. BBBSSNM study conducted by Public/Private Ventures, a national research firm, examined the impact of the Bigs and the organization and found that when compared to their peers, Littles who met with their Bigs for at least one year were 46% less likely to start using drugs; 27% less likely to start drinking; 33% less likely to act violently and 52% less likely to skip a day of school.
With the program being in Chaves County for more than two decades, and the organization itself being established in 1904, Harris Interactive did a national survey on adults who participated in BBBS as children. All in all, 90% said that their Big made them feel better about themselves; 81% said their Big caused them to change what they thought possible in life; 77% set higher goals than they would have on their own; and 42% achieved to earn a degree from a four-year college.
While the organization also needs funds, after all, the cost to open, maintain and support a Big/Little match per year is $1,200; at the moment the need for volunteers is much higher. Anybody interested in volunteering or donating may call Heacox at 575-910-1882 or the office at 575-627-2227. For more information, visit bbbssenm.org.