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COLUMN: January is National Mentoring Month

By Jennifer Jungwirth

Each Christmas Brittaney Schroeder spends the holidays with her family.

That family includes Holly, who mentored Brittaney when Brittaney was a child. Brittaney and Holly spent a lot of time playing the game Guess Who, camping, baking and decorating cookies for the holidays.

Brittaney created many memories with Holly over the years, but it’s not the things she did with Holly that meant the most. It was what she learned. Holly taught Brittaney how to be a well-rounded person, non-judgmental and caring toward others.

January is National Mentoring Month, and Big Brothers Big Sisters of the Mitchell Area invites the community to treat our 46 Bigs as the celebrities they are in the eyes of their Littles.

Big Brothers Big Sisters is more than 100 years old and one of the nation’s largest donor- and volunteer-supported mentoring networks in the country. There are nearly 340 agencies in the country, serving almost 630,000 children, volunteers and families.

Big Brothers Big Sisters pairs youth, or Littles, with screened volunteer mentors, or Bigs. Youth in the program face adversity, often coming from a single-parent or low-income household, or a family where one parent is incarcerated.

Big Brothers Big Sisters of the Mitchell Area is going on its fourth year in Mitchell, and since its incorporation, we have helped 85 at-risk youth find a consistent, caring adult in their lives. And, in the past year, we were able to add a Mentor Mom and school-based mentoring program in Mitchell.

Our growing program is due to the generous support of our community, not just through donations or attending our fundraisers, but through our mentors, who selflessly give the gift of their time. Our mentors spend their Saturday afternoons, Thursday evenings and Sunday mornings providing new opportunities to Mitchell youth.

Big Brothers Big Sisters Youth Outcomes Survey (YOS) data finds that 94 percent of Littles in community-based Big Brothers Big Sisters matches maintained or improved their avoidance toward risky behaviors. Eighty-eight percent maintained or improved their parental trust, and 83 percent maintained or improved their scholastic competence.

Brittaney described Holly as caring, with a big heart. She helped Brittaney with her homework over the years, and each time Brittaney felt overwhelmed in college, Holly was there with encouragement.

Brittaney recalls that encouragement: “When I wanted to give up, she said, ‘No, you’ve got to keep going.’ She made me believe in myself more than I did at that time.”

That is exactly how we want our youth in Big Brothers Big Sisters to feel. We want them to feel proud of themselves and their accomplishments.

This can be done through learning a new tool like sewing or fixing a flat tire on a bicycle. Or, maybe a student earned an A on a spelling test or tried out for the basketball team. Maybe they simply made a new friend in school, all because their mentor helped them overcome shyness.

These changes can happen, but first you need to get involved. Big Brothers Big Sisters of the Mitchell Area currently has eight youth on a waiting list. This is eight too many.

Be someone who matters to someone who matters. Sign up to become a mentor at Big Brothers Big Sisters of the Mitchell Area today.

-Jennifer Jungwirth, of Mitchell, is the fundraising and special events coordinator for Big Brothers Big Sisters of the Mitchell Area. She also has been a mentor in the Mitchell program for more than three years.