“Big” Help, Handed Out a “Little” at a Time
For nearly 40 years, Big Brothers Big Sisters of Beaver County (BBBS) has been providing positive, one-to-one relationships for local at-risk children. Known as “littles,” these kids are paired with volunteers—or “bigs”—who serve as friends and mentors. Throughout the past four decades, many students at Geneva College have donated their time with BBBS in order to share God’s love and guidance with the youth of Beaver County.
The purpose of the agency’s effort is to “share everyday activities and experience the joy that simple moments of friendship can bring.” And it seems to be working. Volunteers often describe the experience as fulfilling, and each year, the organization serves around 350 vulnerable children and youth in the area.
“The children in our program are anywhere from 25-52 percent less likely to engage in delinquent behaviors, such as trying drugs and alcohol, skipping school, or hitting someone,” says Geneva graduate Tiffany (Wright ’08) Thayer, BBBS Program Coordinator for both Geneva and Penn State Beaver. “Also, they are more trusting of the adults in their lives—all from just spending time with a mentor only two hours a week.”
However, the agency’s demand for “bigs” is often greater than the supply—especially for males. “This leaves boys, who may already feel rejected and alone, waiting to be matched with a big brother,” says Stephanie Schindel, Assistant Professor of Psychology, Counseling and Human Services.
But students in Geneva’s Department of Psychology, Counseling and Human Services have been trying to alleviate this problem. A few years ago, human services major Amber (Rogers ’08) Friend worked with BBBS to study male volunteerism for her research honors project. The project led to the creation of a training/recruitment manual for the agency, as well as the production of a recruitment video, which was made through a partnership with Geneva’s Communication Department at no cost to the BBBS.
Then, in the fall of 2011, a group of students in the Human Services Agencies and Policies course expanded on the project and developed a grant proposal for a “gap” program to address the needs of boys on the waiting list. Because of the high quality of this proposal, the gap program became a reality and spending 10 hours facilitating the program has become a required part of human service majors’ Agency Field Experience.
For the gap program, students host three events on campus each semester. Students organize the events and provide the activities. “My experience not only taught me a lot about planning, but opened my eyes to the reality of how those children on the waiting list really, truly want and need someone to look up to and talk to,” says Sommer Gilpatrick, a junior majoring in human services.
Senior human services major Amanda Craciun agrees: “I learned about the importance of investing in people, particularly in vulnerable people that need to feel valued and empowered.”
In addition, the program assists in recruiting volunteers by demonstrating the benefits of volunteering for BBBS. “We each had to bring volunteers,” says Gilpatrick. “Fortunately, we had people who really enjoyed the events and decided that they wanted to become a ‘big.’”
And even though the gap program has no budget, the entire venture thrives through donations. Last semester, students in the class donated drinks, craft supplies, cupcakes and meal swipes, and other Geneva students provided additional funds to help cover the cost of meals.
“I think the history of this project evidences that our students complete academically challenging projects, but the impact reaches far beyond a mere grade in a course,” says Schindel. “Lives of kids in Beaver County are being positively impacted. Some of these kids have been on the waiting list for some time. We want to replace that discouragement with hope.”