Children’s mentorship program seeks volunteers – The Morning Sun

Mid-Michigan Big Brothers/Big Sisters recently sold its office building in Clare and moved away, and its executive director said he should help the nonprofit provide more programs for children than he serves.

The parent organization made the decision shortly before hiring Dan Manley as executive director and shared it with him during the interview process. They distanced themselves for much of the COVID-19 pandemic and found it worked well for them.

“So let’s make it a permanent thing,” Manley said.

This reduced morning commutes in some cases between counties to get to the home office, saving employees money, he said. Better than that, however, is that at least some of the money from the sale of the building will be invested in activities for children that benefit the organization’s mission.

To go along with this, Mid-Michigan BBBS is looking for mentors. The organization currently mentors 89 children in Gratiot, Montcalm, Mecosta, Osceola, Clare, Roscommon and Gladwin counties, but in the past has served up to 100.

The mentorship part involves helping adults develop healthy relationships with children who need adult role models. The one-to-one relationship helps kids from disadvantaged backgrounds develop the skills and confidence to succeed in ways they never thought possible.

A girl who never thought she would mean much is now preparing to go to college in large part because of her big sister, Manley said.

The key to a successful relationship is pairing children between the ages of 5 and 10. Manley calls this the “sweet spot”. The organization will match children up to age 18, when they have left the program.

This allows children and adults to bond as the child reaches adolescence and becomes busier.

While the organization asks adults to commit for at least a year, typically adults who click with their little ones stick around much longer, he said. Often it becomes a friendship that lasts a lifetime. And children who grow up through the program often become volunteer mentors later on.

Another key is pairing people with common interests.

“You want to see that connection,” Manley said.

When it comes to activities, Manley said he insists the personal connection is what’s most important.

“It’s not about the money you spend on that child,” he said.

BBBS offers activities for adult-kid matches, he said. There was pizza and movie night on Friday, and last summer they had water balloon fights and a nature walk.

They also have educational programs, like how to balance a checking account and another on online safety. During the pandemic, they did some online activities. This includes three spelling bees.

“It was a blast,” he said.

Matching children with adults does not happen overnight, he warned. There is a thorough background check and the organization wants to make sure both adults and children fit in well.

Once matched, BBBS stays in touch with volunteers, children and guardians to make sure the match works. The social worker can offer advice to help smooth out rocky spots. Staying in touch also helps the organization keep up to date with what might be good low cost activities.

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