Edit: This article originally appeared on my first website fierygivingtree.com which I’ve since closed.
I had the unique experience of signing up for Big Brothers Big Sisters with my own younger sister, Katie. It is safe to say that we are quite different, even with my tiny hand in her formative years. We have an 11 year age difference and she calls me a hippy and everyone calls her Princess. As adults, we really don’t see each other that much so I was interested in the chance to spend time with her, especially while doing something I love: volunteering. That it would be volunteering with a child was icing on the cake.
To become a Big Brother/Sister, the process begins with an application, then references are vetted, a background check, and an interview by a coordinator, to find a good child match. We both pointed out, to our coordinator, that it might be challenging to find a child that matched us both, since we were so different. I, the pasty hippy, love arts & crafts, the outdoors, yoga. She, the Princess, loves shopping, malls, and the beach [I burst into flames there]. We do both love music, just not the same kinds. Something we could agree on was no age preference, so we were matched with a seven year old girl, who I would dare say was more like my sister. They, in fact, instantly bonded over shoes. The match was great for I love my sister, with all of her Princess aspects, and frankly, it turned out to be pretty darn amusing to see her interacting with a young her.
Our match gave us the opportunity to spend time with this opinionated, loving girl, taking her on adventures and seeing the world through her eyes for moments. We would met and take her on outings to the zoo, aquarium, or bowling and she definitely had personality to spare. One of her frequent phrases was ‘oh come on’. We were always on Little Sister time and she kept us moving if the exhibit was boring her. Katie and I would always look at each other and smile, as we were pulled to the next exhibit.
I also had the opportunity to spend time with my Little one-on-one, taking her to our local Pier, eating out, and perhaps selfishly, taking her to my old favorite: Chuck E. Cheese. This place holds a special place in my heart as I used to take my little sister there on her birthdays. It was fun to experience the madness again with another youngster, and see her hand out for an endless amount of quarters. Being a child of the digital age, she was sadly not as interested in skeeball as I am, preferring an intense video game where you are on a safari-like adventure, forced to battle various bugs and, the real point, feed it quarter after quarter. I did my best to catch on quickly but lots of quarters were taken.
While the adventures I mentioned all involved money, Big Brothers Big Sisters also provides a list of activities that are free to a Big and their Little, from local businesses. In addition, they put on events, like pumpkin carving during Halloween, complete with face-painting for the Little; and impromptu face-painting of Katie by our Little, enabling them both to sport matching whiskers. We made use of some of these and added free activities of our own, like baking cookies (with my amazing mom), going to the beach (I didn’t burst into flames!), and taking her to a park to play.
At times the outings were challenging because Katie and I were both out of practice with spending time with children. Our desire to get her to try new things, i.e.: food besides fast food, was a hopeless failure. For the record, chicken noodle soup is inedible because it has green stuff in it (celery). 😀 Likewise, if a game was too difficult, she might give up, even as we would try to encourage her to try a little more. We also had another round of encouraging her to share the cookies we’d made, this time with some success though. It is not possible to instantaneously connect with someone and yet our Little was very open to us being in her world.
While we had tiny challenges, we also had the support of our coordinator, who is available to assist with questions and keeps tabs on you and your relationship with your Little. Mine was able to give suggestions to improve our relationship and was a great sounding board for ideas.
Big Brothers Big Sisters asks for a commitment of 15 months, seeing the child for about 8 hours a month. Unfortunately, after about 9 months, I made a move to Thailand [that adventure is documented at Fierytree.com] and had to leave my Little in the hands of my other little.
The last outing with my Little was a wonderful one complete with art, park, sweet roll and fast food, while reviewing all the photos we had taken together. It was bitter sweet knowing how much I would miss our time together, but being grateful for the time we had. (We are still in touch even with my move.)
Big Brothers Big Sisters provided an awesome way to interact with a younger person, even with all of the tiny challenges, I would definitely never have missed the opportunity. There is typically a backlog of children waiting for a Big (especially for a Big Brother). They work with children from ages 6 to 18 and meeting twice a month is a pretty easy commitment. For those nervous about the 8 hour commitment a month though, there is another option that works with children at school and could be completed over one’s lunch break. They also welcome donations to keep their programs going.
If I can answer any questions about becoming a Big, let me know! It is a great organization that I would recommend. I personally am glad to have another little sister (Princes 2!). You can’t have enough loved ones.
Benefits of volunteering as a Big –
- Wonderful one-on-one time with a child.
- Agency plans fun activities for you and your Little.
- Access to staff and other resources to help you with your relationship and if any obstacles arise.
- Some web training is offered.
- Children are wonderful – they are smart, funny, generous and caring – and will keep you on your toes!
- You can make an immediate impact on a life – a tiny bit of encouragement can go a long way.
- It is rewarding!
Who you’ll be working with –
- One awesome child will be your Little. You will have the opportunity to request a specific age group and a few other characteristics. Big Brothers Big Sisters will do their best to make a great match.
Level of commitment necessary –
- 15 months are requested, meeting for 8 hours a month. You may continue the relationship for years though.
- A background screening and list of references is required.