CATEGORY: Charities

AUTHOR: EILEEN

HED:Role model program celebrates anniversary

By Eileen Bailey

Daily Journal

In the last seven months, Chris Graham and Aaron Farris have enjoyed a variety of things together.

The two have spent time talking at Baskin-Robbins, played baseball, tried playing tennis and gone to the movies.

The Big Brothers/Big Sisters of Greater Lee County match provides something for both the volunteer and match.

Farris said in Graham he is receiving a role model and friend. "It is real fun to be with Chris," said the 13-year-old Tupelo Middle School student.

Graham said his friendship with Farris allows him to be a positive influence on someone.

"I enjoy spending time with Aaron," Graham said. "It is a positive relationship when two people interact and contribute to it."

This is the premise of the organization that has matched children and adults for the last five years in Tupelo and Lee County. Nationwide, Big Brothers/Big Sisters has been making matches for more than 90 years.

Big Brothers/Big Sisters began matching children here in 1992 after two years of planning by residents who saw the need for one-on-one mentoring. By the end of the first year, the organization had 12 matches.

Today, there are 25 matches in the core program and 37 matches in the School Time Friends program, which began almost three years ago. Since the organization began, more than 500 children have been served through the program, including children on the waiting list and those whose matches have been closed. Of those children, there have been 197 matches made.

Brenda Bridges, executive director of Big Brothers/Big Sisters of Greater Lee County, said the ultimate goal of the program is to provide one-on-one mentoring using trained volunteers working with children to help prevent them from dropping out of school.

When children, ages 6 to 16, are matched with a volunteer, it is to help them long-term, she said.

Shiela Megginson, case worker for the organization, said the children in the program come from single-family homes.

There are two programs children can take part in. The first is the core program, a yearlong commitment between the match, child and parent, who all undergo an in-depth interview, evaluation and training process. During the entire match the volunteer, child and parent meet with or talk to a case management worker to make sure the goals set for the match are being met, Megginson said.

The volunteer meets with the child two or three times a month and the weeks they don't meet, the volunteer and child talk by phone.

"We try to have a flexible schedule for the volunteer and the child," she said.

Their activities vary based on the interests of both the child and the volunteer, Megginson said, ranging from a trip to the movies, fishing, hunting, cultural events or just spending quality time talking.

The second program is the School Time Friends. This program is currently in eight schools in Tupelo and Lee County. The volunteers, who also are screened evaluated and trained, are matched with a child.

A School Time Friends volunteer spends about one hour a week working with the child in the school setting on academic and social skills.

There is a waiting list of children who have not been matched in both programs. Bridges said a recently-awarded $9,000 CREATE Foundation grant will provide Big Brothers/Big Sisters with the funds needed to screen volunteers and help to match up to 30 children in the 1997-1998 school year.

Financial support for the agency comes in a variety of ways. Big Brothers/Big Sisters receives funds from the United Way, donations, grants and from fund-raisers. Recently, the annual Bowl for Kids Sake raised $23,000 for the organization.

There are several long-term goals for agency. More volunteers, especially male and minority residents, are needed as volunteers.

These volunteers will help take children off the waiting list and put them in a relationship with a caring adult.

Bridges said they also would like to increase volunteers and matches in other counties in their service area.

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