At 3:56 p.m. on Tuesday, purple and white balloons waved in the breeze as two pitchers full of lemonade sat in front of the new Big Brothers Big Sisters building, awaiting the arrival of a multitude of attendants. The AC wafted over the welcome mat placed in front of an open door.
Big Brothers Big Sisters of South Central Indiana recently relocated to a new building at 501 N. Walnut Street. On Tuesday they had an open house at their new office.
BBBS is an organization that provides guidance to kids ages 6 to 18. They help children realize their potential and build their futures, according to the BBBS website. Each child, a Little, is paired up with someone 18 or older, a Big.
“Our relationships that we have between an adult and a child can last a lifetime,” Mark Voland, the executive director at BBBS, said. “All research shows that in mentoring programs, the longer the child is in that relationship with their mentor, the better the outcome will be.”
Danell Witmer, the director of development and events, was a former Big who still talks to her Little usually once a week, and they have been together for 11 years. Witmer said she believes Bigs can be considered fun aunts and uncles of the Littles lives, because they see the Big as more of a friend than an authority figure.
“I think kids are more challenged than they ever were, and it doesn’t mean that they don’t have good parents, but sometimes they just need to have a fun aunt or a fun uncle to be there to help support them,” Witmer said. “It really molds them into helping make right decisions.”
Last year in the one-to-one mentoring program, the organization served around 200 children. In addition to this one-to-one program, the BBBS also has a waitlist of kids that are not able to receive a one-to-one Big. Children on this waitlist don’t receive a Big, but they are given the opportunity to be involved with group functions with BBBS.
There are three types of programs that run with BBBS: community-based, site-based, and group mentoring.
During the community-based program, the Big and Little go out in the community once a week and do things, like see a movie, together. During the site-based, they meet at the school, the Boys and Girls Club, or Girls Inc. for an hour. Each Big is only given one Little, which is why there are kids on the waitlist. The third program, the group mentoring, is for them.
“We have group mentoring where for the kids on the waitlist about once or twice a month we do an activity as a big group,” Voland said.
The organization in Bloomington began around 1973, and one of the founders, John F. “Jack” Harlow, was at the open house. Harlow, sporting an official BBBS hat with pins on it that read things like “Super Strikes – bowl for the kids sake” sat by the entrance of the new office.
Harlow, a former parole officer, was contacted to help bring the organization to Bloomington, and he has been involved with it since. Harlow is currently retired but holds the title of Staff Support.
“The most satisfying thing has just been to see it grow, and to serve kids which is why we’re in business,” Harlow said. “We are doing very well with what our mission calls for.”
Talking about the history of BBBS and leaning back into his chair, Harlow adjusted his hat and grabbed a tall walking stick, pulling it forward.
He received the stick from a guy he had on parole 40 years. “He told me I might need it someday. He was right.”
Harlow said when he got the walking stick he was about 35. Harlow, now 76, held it in his hand while watching the commotion around BBBS. He sat at the entrance, first with his granddaughter and then with people passing by who wanted to chat with him. His grandchildren are all currently involved with the program as well.
‘They’re all involved. There’s more than one way to volunteer besides being a Big, and that’s important,” Harlow said.
At 6 p.m., the open house came to a close, and just before sending people off for the day, Mark Voland cut a blue ribbon with a pair of large blue scissors after giving a small thank you speech followed by a round of applause.
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