BBBS Athens

“Little” Haley McGee, age 7, and her “Big,” OHIO student Nicole Sirpilla, carved pumpkins together at an October 2012 event sponsored by Big Brothers Big Sisters of Athens County. Here, they show off their work to Copperhead's mascot, Homer.

Photo courtesy of: Big Brothers Big Sisters of Athens County

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United Appeal spotlight: Big Brothers Big Sisters of Athens County gives kids someone to look up to

Between Nov. 1 and Dec. 24, the Ohio University community is participating in United Appeal's "United 2 Give, United 2 Help" fundraising campaign. Through this editorial series, Compass seeks to highlight some of the community agencies that will benefit from OHIO's giving.

Athens County's high poverty rate and the problems that often come with it—single-parent families, poor nutrition, lack of education, substance abuse, and incarceration, to name a few—are so well known by now that they are almost cliché. But behind those statistics are real people, many of them children who just need to know that someone cares.

Enter Big Brothers Big Sisters of Athens County. Since 1986, BBBS of Athens has paired children (most of them from low-income, single-parent households or living with grandparents or other relatives) with prescreened, trained adult volunteers. These "Littles" and their "Bigs" simply spend time together doing something they enjoy: playing games, reading books, visiting museums, or just talking. It's not the activity that matters; what matters is building a relationship between a needy child and an adult whose sole purpose is to care about them and help them discover their potential.

Nationally, the BBBS model has been shown to improve Littles' school performance and attendance, family relationships, and life choices. Here in Athens County, the program works closely with other agencies—including Live Healthy Appalachia, the Albert Schweitzer Fellowship, and the Athens County Re-Entry Program for soon-to-be ex-prisoners—to coordinate services.

Tara Gilts began working with BBBS of Athens County in 2006 as an AmeriCorps volunteer and was so moved by the experience that she made the organization her career. After working as a program coordinator and Southeast Ohio Regional Outreach and Training Manager, she became executive director of BBBS of Athens County in 2011. She recently answered questions via e-mail about her agency, its mission, and the invaluable support of the OHIO community.

What services does Big Brothers/Big Sisters provide?

Gilts: We offer three primary programs: The Community Mentoring Program pairs children ages 5 to 17 with caring, committed, and trained adult volunteers for a one-on-one mentoring relationship that endures for one year or longer. We also provide mentors (who receive additional training) and support services to children who have lost a parent to incarceration. One example: We worked with the local Re-Entry Coalition to arrange a videoconferencing call between a 15-year-old Little and her incarcerated father, who she had not seen in four years. Mentoring children of prisoners is a priority for BBBS of Athens County.

The Youth in Leadership Program pairs high school student volunteers with elementary students during after-school programming in six local schools: Trimble Elementary, The Plains Elementary, Amesville Elementary, Alexander Elementary, Washington Elementary in Marietta, and Central Elementary in Vinton County.

This year, we began a new program at West Elementary: Bobcat Buddies. Ohio University students work with elementary students for one and a half hours after school on Wednesdays, doing homework together or reading.

But that's not all! We also provide free monthly activities for the families we serve. Outings in 2012 included canoeing, pumpkin carving, a trip to the fair, bowling, a holiday party, a high-ropes course for our teens, attending OU athletic events, swimming, ice skating, and more!

Often, we are the first call when a family we serve is struggling. We have provided Littles and their families with last-minute school supplies, gas cards, and rides to everything from counseling appointments to volunteer activities. When we were not able to provide aid, we refer parents and guardians to other social service agencies in the community.

How does the organization connect with the community?

Gilts: We are a volunteer-driven nonprofit. Our mentors are caring community members who give their time and talent to children in need. Our monthly activities are supported by a different community or University group each month. The support we provide to children and families is only possible through the support of volunteers, donors, and advocates of our programs.

How does BBBS work with the university?

Gilts: Over 80 percent of our volunteers are employed by or attending Ohio University. OHIO employees serve as mentors, board members, parents to Littles, and as donors. Our small staff (three paid employees) are all proud OHIO alumni. We also work closely with the Heritage College of Osteopathic Medicine's AmeriCorps program.

Ohio University has also supported our kids in other ways. The OU Bobcats, through the leadership of Jason Grooms have volunteered at our Pancake Breakfast, provided football tickets to Littles, and invited our kids out during training in the summer to meet the players and tour the facility. Ohio University also provides support to our agency and staff through student internships and employment. Students have also helped with our web site design, facilitated activities at our after-school programs, wrapped gifts for our Littles before the holidays and bowled at Bowl for Kids' Sake each year.

How would donations from United Appeal help you?

Gilts: These donations enable our staff to provide direct services and support to struggling families in our community. Donations support our Community Mentoring program, with a priority given to children who have a parent in prison or who are residing with a grandparent. We will use funds from United Appeal to recruit, train and support more Big Sisters, Big Brothers and Big Couples to guide and mentor vulnerable children, and support parents, grandparents and guardians who need our help.

United Appeal's "United 2 Give, United 2 Help" fundraising campaign runs through Dec. 24. For more information, visit http://www.unitedappeal.org.

2012-13 United Appeal Campaign Committee Members

Jessica Wingett, Heritage College of Osteopathic Medicine

Jennifer Kirksey, President's Office

Monica Chapman, University Communications and Marketing

Chris France, Psychology

Jim Harris, Alumni Relations

Mark Sutton, Heritage College of Osteopathic Medicine

Andrew Stuart, Libraries

Eileen Theodore-Shusta, Libraries

Did you know?

Did you know you can specify which partner organization receives your United Appeal donation?

For your donation to be used by a specific program or out-of-county united fund, simply indicate the organization on your pledge form under "Donor Choice."

Click here to download a pledge form.