Submitted by Big Brothers Big Sisters
Big Brothers Big Sisters of Northcentral Wisconsin has been serving children in Marathon County since 1976. Over the past 45 years, the organization has helped thousands of children by giving them a consistent 1:1 role model to look up to.
Children involved in the program can take part either in School-Based Mentoring or Community-Based Mentoring. In School-Based Mentoring, local elementary and middle school children can be paired with either a high school student or an adult mentor. The volunteer meets with the child at school, or virtually, and the two are able to try activities such as having lunch together, working on homework, playing a game, playing outside, talking, or doing a craft. Commitment for that program is 30–45 minutes weekly for 1 year. In Community-Based Mentoring, a child is matched with an adult mentor and together they can take part in activities like going to a library, hiking Rib Mountain, playing in a park, or taking part in a local festival or activity. Commitment for that program is 1–2 hours weekly for 1 year.
Children can be referred to Big Brothers Big Sisters by a teacher, counselor, or parent. Often, children in the program get referred for assistance in gaining self-confidence, developing stronger family or peer relationships, exploring new hobbies or interests, or improving academic achievements.
In 2019, Big Brothers Big Sisters of Northcentral Wisconsin was proudly able to serve 348 children.
Due the COVID-19 pandemic, that number decreased in 2020 to 237.
However, children need strong role models more than ever and Big Brothers Big Sisters hopes to bounce back to pre-pandemic numbers very quickly.
Tracy & Grace
Even during a tough year that brought out numerous changes and the need for flexibility, our volunteers were great about continuing to be positive, supportive influences for their Littles. Tracy Vick and her Little Sister Grace have been matched for almost 3 years now. While their activities may have changed a bit in the past year, their ongoing friendship did not. During the pandemic, Tracy was able to keep her match with Grace active by being creative. Tracy would start a story and send the script to Grace. Grace would add to the story and send it back to Tracy. In addition to fun stories, Tracy would also send knock-knock jokes or play the game Would You Rather?
Big Brothers Big Sisters encourages all matches to take health and safety very seriously during this time. Rather than transporting Grace to activities like she had in previous years, Tracy and Grace would hike right around their neighborhood parks or take a bike ride that ended up with getting ice cream at Briq’s Soft Serve. As the weather changed, so did their activities. Tracy has tried to help Grace learn about herself and her world by pushing her out of her comfort zone and allowing her to explore new places and new ideas. Tracy and Grace have adapted well to the challenges of COVID-9, and their relationship has grown even stronger.
Nikki & Serenity
Understandably, some may question how you can possibly form a new friendship during a pandemic. Big Brothers Big Sisters believes that with the right connection, anything is possible. For example, Nikki and Serenity have just started their match over the past couple months. Although their friendship is certainly different than Tracy and Grace’s, they found a good way to get to know each other. For this match, going bowling has allowed them to be in a relaxed atmosphere and let their conversation flow freely. While getting to know one another and form their connection, Nikki Burkholder [who works for the State of Wisconsin in the Probation and Parole Offices] has found Serenity to be spunky, energetic, and funny. Nikki realizes that forming a new relationship during COVID-19 is challenging, but she hopes to offer Serenity a connection to a supportive person to help nurture her well-being. As this match grows and develops, Nikki is excited to get to know Serenity even better through shared interests.
Zach & Gavin
Big Brothers Big Sisters is very proud to partner with local law enforcement and fire departments to have a Bigs with Badges program. One Bigs with Badges match, Zach and Gavin, have been matched for almost 3 years. Their match faced some challenges connecting with one another early in the pandemic but has since been able to utilize technology to their advantage. Gavin loves football, so during one of their recent conversations, he told Zach about having to complete a school presentation about football. Zach was able to give Gavin ideas on how best to present the information. For many of our Littles, virtual or hybrid learning has been exceptionally difficult. Having solid resources like Zachary Ruesch to offer encouragement and motivation to keep working hard is great for our Littles.
Marathon County Deputy Sheriff Zachary Ruesch serves as a Big Brother to his Little, Gavin. (Photo courtesy of Big Brothers Big Sisters.)
Big Brothers Big Sisters of Northcentral Wisconsin believes that all children have the potential to be successful in life. Sometimes they just need an added person in their life to help ignite, empower, and defend that potential.
If you are interested in learning more about the program or becoming a mentor, please contact Beth Kohnert at 715-848-7207 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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