By Hailey Lanari
The Big Brothers and Sisters of Orange County is currently looking to expand their program and gain more members. They have recently reached an all time low for enrollment of both volunteers and children.
“So many kids in our community need this extra support system and we are doing our best to reach them,” said the current Executive Director, Mary Kate Lowe.
Although they continued to have their doors open and continued to support their children, the pandemic was a large contributor to the recent low enrollment and retention rates. Previously, they had strong relationships with Orange County school districts and were able to establish referral resources, but once schools closed this was no longer maintained. There are plans to reestablish these connections in the coming year.
The organization uses a 1-1 match model that allows for a deeper relationship between the volunteer and their child and provides the child with personalized support. Volunteers are interviewed extensively when they are selected which gives the directors a sense of their personality and life experiences. They also take into account the likes/dislikes and preferences (such as age, race, and religion) of both the volunteer and the child. This allows them to pair children with adults they can relate to and learn from.
“I have a really good match, my ‘little’ is almost the spitting image of who I was as a child. Being so similar to her, and managing to be successful now is a great example for her to have.” said Jessica, a Big Sister volunteer, “A lot of times these kids just need a positive role model that they can relate to.”
Volunteers try to keep consistent contact with their ‘little’, through both in person meetings and online. It varies as to how often matches meet, but many try to see each other once a week to once a month. These meetings are not formal, but rather focus on giving children a space to seek support.
“Even little interactions and activities have an impact on kids, it’s about giving them at least one person to always have positive interactions with.” said Jessica.
The organization is currently looking for more volunteers, specifically male volunteers. To become a Big Brother/Sister you need to be at least 18 years of age, have a valid driver’s license, and commit to one full year with a matched child. Afterwards, volunteers go through the enrollment process, which includes a background check and training period.
The Big Brothers and Big Sisters of Orange County will be celebrating their 45th anniversary with a Trivia Night Fundraiser at the Jewish Community Center in Newburgh on November 12 from 4 - 6:30 p.m.