Local United Way gains Big Brothers Big Sisters as agent

Published 9:43 am Thursday, September 24, 2015

Contributed Photo Big Brothers Big Sisters matches children with appropriate mentors who assist with schoolwork and spend quality time with children to help develop hobbies and positive relationship building skills.

Contributed Photo Big Brothers Big Sisters matches children with appropriate mentors who assist with schoolwork and spend quality time with children to help develop hobbies and positive relationship building skills.

United Way of Elizabethton and Carter County recently gained its 10th agency, Big Brothers Big Sisters of East Tennessee, a group that connects at-risk children with local mentors to help them achieve academically and personally.
Mentors, known as “Bigs,” are asked to spend four hours minimum with their “Littles” each month, but Tri-Cities BBBS Director Katie Carrico said most exceed those requirements.
“Our funding will only support one child, but we consider it a success at any amount we can find,” United Way Director Cheri Tinney said. “I think once the community sees how successful the program is, they will step up and want to sponsor three or four children.”
Each match between a child and mentor costs $1,000 per year to cover prematch screenings, orientation, training and ongoing evaluation to ensure the match is effective.
“What we are looking for are improvements in school, good decision making, avoiding risky situations and maintaining socio-emotional health,” Carrico said.
She said the ultimate goal is to help them graduate high school, attend post-secondary education and find a productive career thereafter. Each month, the case manager speaks to every party of the match and delivers evaluation strategies.
Carrico said one of her favorite matches was with a little boy and older sister being raised by a single father. They were matched with a local couple and primarily worked on homework, but also spent time doing fun activities together.
“That young man got a full college scholarship to Berea in Kentucky and is attending there now,” Carrico said.
For years, Big Brothers Big Sisters has been able to match one Carter County youth annually with a mentor, but now, through their partnership with United Way, they hope to assist more children in the area.
“United Way funding allows us to have a consistent presence, because when United Way talks about their work, we will come up in those conversations and we hope Carter County will become more aware of us,” Carrico said. “We are exceptionally grateful to be selected, we are really proud to be a partner agency.”
Children are selected based on recommendation by their families, after school facilities and other sources like third party case management agencies.
According to Carrico, mentors are selected through various recruitment efforts throughout the region like speaking with companies and hosting fundraisers.
“Potential candidates do an orientation to see if our program is the right program for them, followed by a screening and background check, then we ask for a one-year commitment,” Carrico said.
The current Carter County match is a seven-year old named Kayden Rutledge and his Big, Brianna Smith. Because of an abundance of female Bigs, boys between the ages of six and nine may choose to have a female Big. Typically they are paired with Bigs of the same sex, but Match Support Specialist Miranda Mitchell said Rutledge was beyond excited to get matched with Smith. She said these two are some of her favorites to talk about because of how much they enjoy their time together.
Each mentor personalizes the interaction they have with their Little, whether it is academically or recreationally focused, where they go together, whether it is going bowling, fishing, canoeing or encouraging involvement in school programs and extracurriculars.
“It teaches them character and gives them a buddy,” said Tinney, who emphasized the value of the program and how it reaches kids right where they are.
“The activities are totally individualized based on the child’s needs,” said Tinney. “It’s a nationwide program that’s very popular and successful, and we’re really excited to have Katie and her team as an agent.”
BBBS is an international organization that has been serving the greater Tri-Cities for 30 years. According to its observation, children that participate are 46 percent less likely to begin using illegal drugs, 27 percent less likely to begin using alcohol and 52 percent less likely to skip school.

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