For the past 60 years, Big Brothers Big Sisters of the Great Lakes Bay Region has been changing the lives of children.
Matching children with a mentor to develop a bond, the mission of Big Brothers Big Sisters is to provide children who are facing adversity with strong and enduring, professionally-supported, one-to-one mentoring relationships that have the potential to change their lives for the better.
Big Brothers Big Sisters of the Great Lakes Bay Region is one of several locations in the United States and in others countries. The program currently operates in all 50 states and in 12 other countries, working to provide children with a mentor they can look up to.
The Great Lakes Bay Region works to serve Midland, Bay, Saginaw and Isabella Counties.
Graduate Intern and site supervisor for Isabella County, Jordan Hardiman, works to pair college students with children ages 12 to 13 for one-on-one mentoring. There are currently eight “Littles” and 10 “Bigs” from Central Michigan University involved in the program.
“In our program, we focus on one-on-one mentoring, companionship and friendship,” Hardiman said. “We’re not the kids’ parents, teachers or counselors, we are their friend. We follow rules and policies, but our main goal is companionship.”
Any needs they have, we’re here to help.
When determining which kids to involve in the program, Hardiman works with the at-risk counselor at various schools to figure out which kids could benefit from the program. Once the application is cleared with the parents, the bigs and littles are interviewed so they can be paired together.
“We usually look at kids from single household families with a lower income, academically struggling and socially struggling,” Hardiman said. “Anything along those lines. Any needs they have, we’re here to help.”
Once the bigs and the littles are chosen, there are weekly programs at West Intermediate that allow them to get to know each other. The first half of the program is spent doing homework, eating snacks and socializing. The next half contains group-focused activities.
“In the first couple programs we played some icebreakers so everyone could get to know each other,” Hardiman said. “Now, we’re focused on more crafty stuff. We’ve made ninja stress balls, the Red Cross came to the program and they made Disney pillowcases and we’ve made lava lamps.”
This program benefits the littles in more ways than just having someone there to help them with work.
“It gives them confidence,” Hardiman said. “When it comes to their academics, socially and just their self-esteem. We’re focused on mentoring and role models, so it really benefits them by having them know ‘this person really doesn’t know me, but they want to get to know me.’”
Not only do the littles benefit from the program, but the bigs are able to get something out of it while making an impact at the same time.
“I notice with a lot of my bigs, they’re gaining a lot more out of it than they thought,” Hardiman said. “I don’t think they realized how much of a personal level they’d get with the littles. On a personal level, I think that’s where it benefits the bigs – that bond.”
Enrollment and match specialist for the program, Jenny Oswald, said the program isn’t just based on random activities, but STEM activities with focuses on science, technology, engineering and math education.
“We’ve been focusing a lot on STEM activities this year,” Oswald said. “Our goal in Big Brothers Big Sisters is to hopefully get them to some point in their life where they can either do a two year or a four year college.”
According to Oswald, one of the biggest goals is to help the children become college ready.
“It’s been a great asset for Jordan to be able to take these STEM projects and have the mentors work on it with their children,” Oswald said. “I think it’s been pretty fun. Everything is kind of based on STEM right now.”
Midland junior, Beth Dickerson has been involved in Big Brothers Big Sisters for the past two years. Dickerson chose to come back for another year because she had a lot of fun last year mentoring a young girl.
“I wanted to get involved with Big Brothers Big Sisters because I wanted to work with middle age kids and I thought this could be a really good opportunity,” Dickerson said. “I’m a social work major and I haven’t worked with this age group before, so it’s helping me figure out which age group I want to work with.”
Dickerson is hoping to make an impact on the program by continuing to be a good role model for her littles and the other littles involved in the program.
“The program gives them something to do after school,” Dickerson said. “It also gives them a mentor to look up to and see someone in a different light than what they’re seeing at home. If there are more students and volunteers, then more kids get the opportunity to come and be a part of the program.”
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