Editor's Note: This is the first in the a two-part series highlighting the services, outreach and successes of the Lake Area Big Brothers/Big Sisters organization. As part of the National Mentoring Month, The Lake Today would like to help raise awareness of this valuable organization and allow readers to hear true stories of "Bigs" and "Littles" at the Lake of the Ozarks. In this first part of the series, learn about Lake Area BBBS' growing school program; in the second part, learn more about its community mentors and special events.
"Spend an hour, save a child."
As one of the not-for-profit organization's slogans throughout the years, the Lake Area Big Brothers Big Sisters (BBBS) is about enriching a young child's life through positive mentoring from caring adults.
Serving Camden and Miller counties, Lake Area BBBS has been a longtime group of adults and students - also known as "Bigs" - who are committed to building up a young person or Little's morale.
For Lake Area BBBS program coordinator Sue Creel, this is a gift that lasts a lifetime.
"Our Littles are typically from ages 6-14. However, just because the Little turns 14 doesn't mean that the relationship stops," Creel said. "Some of our students and adults, as long as you are good with the family, can keep the relationship going outside of Big Brothers/Big Sisters. This relationship can continue forever and that makes the best success for our Littles."
Creel got involved in the Lake Area BBBS about three years ago after her husband, Dave, had already formed a great relationship with his Little through BBBS.
"Dave is a big brother himself. We moved down here from Chicago; he worked at a big bank up there and I was a family law attorney. He came down here before I did and I was still up there practicing law and selling our house," she explained. "When he was down here he got involved in a lot of community activities including being a big brother. That was neat to see how he formed this relationship with his Little and all the stuff they did together."
Creel said the gentleman who had been the program coordinator for many years decided to leave and they were looking for a proper replacement. About three years ago she had the time to commit to the position and was able to take the position.
"I have been with BBBS three years now as the program coordinator and I just love it," she added.
Like Big Brothers Big Sisters chapters across the country, the Lake Area BBBS is part of the national organization, which started in 1904 with both Big Brothers Association and Big Sisters International formed as separate entities. In 1977 they joined forces to become Big Brothers Big Sisters of America, according to BBBS.org.
"The Lake Area BBBS is a satellite of Jefferson City," Creel said. "I have a wonderful board of directors, who are in charge of the decision making."
For Creel, being program coordinator is about matching Bigs and Littles. She said Bigs are adults and high school students, and the Littles are the children in need of a mentor.
"The Littles may come from a single parent home or maybe the family just can't give them as much attention as they would like to," she explained. "So the kids are referred to me by anyone and everyone, but most especially by the local school counselors and faculty."
BBBS' school program
The Lake Area BBBS has its community program where adults are matched with Littles where they can meet at school, at home or out in the community. However, one of its more recently developed programs through the School of the Osage School District has been "booming," Creel said.
Creel said its BBBS school program matches Littles with high school students, allowing the mentoring process to happen right at the school campus. She said the program starts with freshmen students being interviewed near the end of the school year to become potential Bigs for Littles in their school system. If matched, they begin their Big duties their sophomore year, paired with a third grader at Osage Upper Elementary.
"That way, when the sophomores become juniors, their third graders become fourth graders and so on; they have three years to be together and form a true bond," Creel said.
The BBBS school program meets Tuesday afternoons while Osage has its academic lab time. Creel said the high school Bigs go to the Upper Elementary and get their Littles to take back to the school.
"They come over to the school and become friends with them, read to them, help them with homework, learn about their families, have parties," she said. "(The lady) at the cafeteria is just fabulous, too. She say, "You know, when you are meeting with your friend, you need to have a snack.' She makes them cookies and snacks form them a lot of times during these get-togethers."
Creel said the counselors at both Osage Upper Elementary and Osage High School are also highly supportive and instrumental in the BBBS school program and have been for many years, a part from helping Creel match Littles with Bigs.
Creel also said adults can be matched in the school program, too, with one community adult participating in the BBBS school project.
"We are hoping to expand that, as well. We currently serve Miller and Camden counties. So it is not just about School of the Osage. If we have folks that live anywhere, they can be matched with a student and do the same program at their school. Our motto is spend an hour and save a child. But you can spend way more than an hour with them and we welcome folks to do just that."
Creel hopes that eventually as the program continues to grow, the Littles can in turn become Bigs themselves as they reach high school. The other hope is the high school kids continue the relationships past their graduation and also become a Big in the communities they go to beyond the Lake Area.
"The high school kids understand that it is a serious commitment and it is a great teaching tool for them. As they go off into the world, we hope they continue to be involved in Big Brothers Big Sisters and in their community, too," Creel said.
"Big" success stories
As part of this series, The Lake Today asked different Bigs as part of the Lake Area Big Brothers Big Sisters to share their experiences with the organization and with their Littles.
Read about three BBBS Bigs and additional stories in next week's issue.
By Scott Martin, Big Brother
"I became a "big" about two years-ago. One of the main reasons I became one was I lost my bother to-suicide when I was in middle school. Shortly after my parents-divorced and I was struggling in many ways. I had a family friend-step in and mentor me for several years. Even though he lives in-Florida I still see him a couple times a year and we remain close to-this day. Had it not been for that relationship I don't know where I-would be today."
"Being involved with the community has always been a-big part of my life since I grew up in a family business that was- always very active in local charities. One of the things I believe-is you can donate, give, volunteer, etc., but if you want to make a-difference do it in the life of a child! I have always felt Big-Brothers Big Sisters is a great program and had a desire to volunteer-and one day I just picked up the phone and did."
"I can say since I was-matched it has been more rewarding then I could ever imagine. It-reminds me of all the things I am so grateful for on a daily bases.-As our relationship has grown and you see how the little things make-such big differences in his life it makes it all worth while. It has-made me grow as a person in many ways."
"I have a wonderful wife and-two young daughters and it is so fun to see how it has helped us all-grow as a family. My little and his mother have became a big part of-our family."
"As for memorable moments I feel every time we get-together it is something memorable. It was just tonight we went by an-old neighbor of mine who had called earlier and said if I would like to-clean some crappie he had a mess in his live well. I picked him up-and grabbed my fish cleaning tools and my little was handing me the-fish while I was filleting, and by the time he handed me the second-fish he asked, "do you think we could have fish for dinner?' and of-course I responded, "I think I can make that happen!" It makes my-3-year-olds day anytime he comes over to the house she just lights-up when she sees him. We proceeded to get everything out to make the-fish. He rolled them in cornmeal and put them in the grease while I-fished the done ones out. By the time we were done my little girl had-her princesses out and was proudly showing them to him."
"It wasn't-long before they were doing circles in the kitchen chasing each other,- and the whole house was filled with laughter. It wasn't long and I-spilled some tarter sauce right on a pair of my wives shoes. In my-quick thinking I looked over and blamed it on my "little' as joke as I-was getting the eye from my wife. He points at me and, "says it-wasn't me!' and what does my little girl pipe up and say, "it wasn't-Kayden it was you daddy!" in her sweet little voice. And as I was-cleaning the shoes and floor while everyone was laughing and carrying-on. It is moments like those that makes everything worth while!"-
"Another great moment is when we first started hanging out I took him-fishing in a little old jon boat for catfish. We were checking the-lines and he didn't know quite what to think and I told him to man the-net and get ready cause we were going to catch a big one, and he was-thinking yeah right! We weren't 30 minutes into it and we had one-bigger than the net! It was about a 20-pound fish and when we got it in-the boat he was amazed that there were fish that big in the lake! I-made him pick it up and pose with it in the boat and his smile was ear-to ear! We have done so many things and our lives have grown in so-many ways I wouldn't trade it for the world!"--
By Beth Leuwerke, Big Sister
"I have been a big sister to my little sis, age 10, for about three years. I have grandchildren in the Lake Area who I love spending time with.
"When approached by a neighbor about being a big, I thought why not give another child some of the same time I give my grandchildren. My time with my little sis varies from doing an activity in the community to spending time at my home playing games, making dinner or doing a craft activity."
"We are continuing to learn each other's likes, dislikes, strengths and weaknesses. I think we both are broadening our interest and gaining confidence in our abilities to try new activities. Some for me are activities I have not done in several years."
"It has been heartwarming observing the emotions of my little as she participates in a new activity or experience. When given the opportunity to go tubing, she was initially apprehensive and somewhat fearful. With encouragement she tried, and was smiling or laughing the entire time tubing. Swimming and tubing are now her favorite activities. I have found being a big sis is being a friend who listens, encourages and mentors."
By Julie Effertz, Big Sister
"Five years ago, I discovered how being a mentor not only could change a child's life but also could change mine. BBBS has had a powerful impact on my life. I am most proud of being a Big Sister, and I want this to be a part of my legacy."
"I became a Big after moving from Kansas City to the Lake full time. I missed my grandchildren. Then I read an article in the paper about BBBS and I went for an interview. This was in the fall of 2008.I was matched with an 8-year-old girl at Hurricane Deck Elementary. Amber is now 13. I have served on the executive board to BBBS and have been very active in recruiting others as Bigs. I tell everyone you can change the life of a child in so many small ways, but the change in your life for the better is huge.
BBBS doesn't require a financial commitment but rather a willingness to give your time and share your experiences."
"Our favorite things to do are have dinner at my house, bake cookies, play games or just sit at the dock and talk. Just spending time together is my favorite. We consider Amber a member of our family. My grandchildren are always asking about her and how she is doing. In June I have a visit to the Tea Room in Versailles planned with Amber and my granddaughter Caroline."
"I remember driving with Amber in March 2009 to the Bowl For Kids' Sake (BBBS fund -raising event each year). It was raining very hard and it was dark at 11 a.m. in the morning. I was thinking what am I doing out here on a Saturday morning in this storm? Just then Amber said to me, "Julie, I don't know what I would do without you in my life.' I knew exactly why I was driving in that storm!"
"I know that I have put some magic back into her life, and created some good memories and a lasting friendship. She knows she can call me anytime day or night and I will be there for her. Thank you BBBS for bringing us together and for making a positive difference in the lives of our children in the Lake Area."
In the second and final installment of this series, learn more about Lake Area Big Brothers Big Sisters and hear additional Bigs' stories in the Jan. 23 issue. For more information about Big Brothers Big Sister, call 573-348-5507 or visit www.lakebbbs.org.