When more than 70 adults and kids gathered Saturday at Big Brothers Big Sisters of Southwest Colorado’s holiday party, the fun and games were more than just fun and games.
“Especially when matches are new, these social events seem to help them get established,” said Caleb Speas, Big Brothers Big Sisters program director. “We try to have a gathering every month, and we try to keep it fresh.”
At the holiday party, every inch of the Boys & Girls Club of La Plata County was hopping, with adults and kids decorating cookies, doing art projects, playing foosball, pool and basketball as well as greatly enjoying breaking a piñata and scooping up the resulting candy bounty.
“We do a lot of crafting stuff,” said Yesenia, who made angels at the arts and crafts station with her big, Michelle, at the party. “And I show her new stuff, like music.”
The two have made bracelets, worked with glass at Get Fused! Open Studio and Art Gallery and gone to a quilting store, where Yesenia learned to sew and made a quilt for her bed. A lunch and a movie is also a favorite activity. But sometimes, just having someone else to talk to is all that matters, they both said. Their match inspired Yesenia’s cousins to sign up for the program.
Making a matchAs has happened with many matches, Yesenia and Michelle began as Study Buddies, BBBS’ school-based mentoring program, before becoming part of the year-round community-based program people traditionally associate with the organization. Big Brothers Big Sisters of La Plata County added a third program, where high school students mentor elementary school-aged students, a few years ago.
In recent months, the bigs and littles have journeyed on the Durango & Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad thanks to a donation of 75 tickets from owner Al Harper. He has already agreed to donate 75 more for another excursion in 2017. Durango Rivertrippers contributed rafting trips down the river, and the Durango Fire Protection District hosted a Halloween party at Station No. 2, with a jack-o’-lantern carving contest courtesy of Falfa Pumpkin Patch.
“We like to have outings that are educational, too,” Speas said. “Last June, we visited Tierra Vida Farm, where we planted spinach, onions and potatoes. In late September, we harvested them, so kids got to eat their produce and learned about gardening and sustainability of the food supply.”
Waiting for a matchWhile Big Brothers Big Sisters of Southwest Colorado manages about 200 matches between its three programs, the organization has a lot of littles waiting for a big, Speas said. The community-based program has 10 on the list, and there are another 20 hoping for a Study Buddy. The high school mentoring program is at capacity.
Bigs don’t have to be single individuals, there are a number of Big Couples, such as Tracy and Don Cornutt.
Tracy Cornutt is the former executive director of Big Brothers Big Sisters of Southwest Colorado, and her husband was a Study Buddy to their little for four years. With middle school approaching, and Cornutt no longer the executive director, they moved to the community-based program. The trio has hiked, fished, gone four-wheeling and just generally gone adventuring.
Speas is also a big brother, a match made before he began in his position with the organization, and they’ve reached a stage where sometimes they’re so comfortable together, they don’t need to talk, he said.
“I love seeing kids try something that engages them,” Speas said about his favorite part of the job. “A lot come from households where they don’t get to do a lot of things. One little’s father died, and his big got him a scholarship at The Rock Lounge. Now he’s in high school and competing on the climbing team and traveling all over the country.”
A bit of confusionWhile the party was held at the Boys & Girls Club of La Plata County facility, the two organizations are separate.
“One thing that both of our organizations recognize is the confusion between our agencies,” said Megan Hayes, unit director of the Boys and Girls Club. “Whether it is with people looking to volunteer – and showing up at the other agency mistakenly – or donations coming in the mail addressed to the other organization, or just general confusion, Boys & Girls Clubs and Big Brothers Big Sisters agencies nationwide find themselves explaining the difference between the organizations often.”
To be clear, Big Brothers Big Sisters provides one-on-one mentoring for children who are at-risk. Boys & Girls Club provides a fun, safe place with after-school and summer programming that includes homework assistance, access to activities such as art and digital media, games and sports and leadership training for children ages 6 to 18.
“While we, of course, want the community to know the difference between our agencies,” Hayes said, “we also want them to see that we often come together for a common purpose of helping kids, and this holiday party is a great example of that.”