OLD TOWN – Residents will have a chance tonight to learn more about the area’s Big Brothers Big Sisters program during a program at the library. A game and information night for children, parents and volunteers from Old Town, Alton and Bradley who are interested in the Big Brothers Big Sisters program will be held from 6:30 to 8 p.m. tonight at the Old Town Public Library.
Similar events for residents in Greenbush and Milford are being planned for later this month.
“It’s an opportunity for children, parents, and potential mentors to find out what the program is about,” Crystal Salinas, Penobscot County mentor coordinator, said Tuesday at her office.
Big Brothers Big Sisters recently received a Communities That Care grant from the University of Washington to make 35 matches with pupils in grades five through eight by Sept. 1 in the Old Town area.
So far, Salinas has met her January goal of placing 10 children with big brothers or sisters, but hasn’t yet reached her April 1 objective for the same number of matches.
In particular, finding male mentors for children is a problem nationwide, according to Salinas.
“Men often see the project and they think it’s a good idea, but they don’t feel that they can fulfill that role,” Salinas said. “Most of the time, little boys in the program just want somebody to come hang out with them.”
Two chalkboards, one with a list of eligible mentors and the other containing the names of children to be placed, can be found in Salinas’ Bangor office. The number of volunteers, however, is much shorter than the list of children looking for a big brother or sister.
In the Orono-Old Town area, University of Maine students often apply to be mentors. The only problem is that the organization doesn’t like to match UM students with a child after April 1 because there is only a month or so for the two to connect before college lets out for the summer and students go back home, Salinas explained.
“I have three kids that need to be matched, but they’re all boys and I have no big brothers,” Salinas said.
To become part of the program, children ages 7 to 14 are referred to Big Brothers Big Sisters by a parent.
While other organizations can give parents contact information for Big Brothers Big Sisters, a parent or guardian is the only one that can provide a child’s information.
Children then are put on a waiting list and placed with a mentor who lives in their community and shares some of the same interests. Matching a “big” with a “little” can take two weeks or more.
“It’s just a matter of finding the right match,” Salinas said. “We don’t match on a first come, first served basis.”
Matches are made based on a variety of things, including interests, parent requests, and gender.
“The volunteers are spending their time, so we want to make sure they’re happy with the match that they’re in,” Salinas said.
Big brothers and sisters are asked to commit six to 10 hours each month to spend with their “little.”
For the community-based programs, mentors must be 18 years old. School-based programs, however, allow mentors to be sophomores in high school or older.
Big Brothers Big Sisters conducts a Department of Human Services and criminal background check on all volunteers and also visits mentors’ homes to ensure they are a safe place for children to go.
The organization also requires that applicants provide a copy of their driver’s license and proof of vehicle insurance.
“We will always do what’s in the best interest of the child,” Salinas said.
Salinas noted that the application process shouldn’t scare away interested volunteers.
She also explained that the organization provides training for mentors, children and parents and follows up with “bigs” and “littles” each month to make sure that the match is working out.
“It’s not rocket science,” she said. “These kids just need somebody to pay attention to them.”
Big Brothers Big Sisters of Eastern Maine, Christian Ridge Rd., PO Box 1087, Ellsworth, ME 04605
Phone: (207) 667-5304 (800) 492-5550 Fax: (207) 667-6117 Email: [email protected]