The Big Brothers Big Sisters of South Central Indiana is experiencing a shortage of 142 mentors due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Danell Witmer, executive director of the organization said.
About half of the volunteers in Big Brothers Big Sisters of South Central Indiana are IU students, Witmer said. She said when students weren’t meeting for class in person during the pandemic, their volunteer numbers significantly decreased.
Witmer said there is a global shortage of volunteers, partly due to people’s reluctance to meet in-person during the pandemic. Other members of the organization said they are aware of people’s hesitancy to volunteer as well.
The organization has been cautious not to hold in-person activities since the pandemic started, Witmer said. She said the organization brings activities to the kids in their homes. Big Brothers Big Sisters brought pumpkins and carving kits to children’s houses. Witmer said they also provide painting supplies for students to participate in a picture contest.
Witmer said Big Brothers Big Sisters also partners with other local organizations, providing kids and their mentors the opportunity to go to Bloomington Playwrights and IU sporting events.
Witmer said children get involved in the program for various reasons. She said some children in Big Brothers Big Sisters come from families that have experienced opioid abuse while others have parents who are busy with work.
Witmer, also a former mentor in the organization, said she is still in touch with her mentee Kali Vaughn, who she matched with at age 9. When Vaughn showed an interest in sewing, Witmer bought her a sewing machine and Vaughn went on to major in fashion design.
“The great thing about our organization is that the bigs can provide some experiences that their littles may have never had and show them just what skills that they don’t necessarily know they have,” Witmer said.
Witmer said igniting children’s potential is important to helping them fulfill their dreams.
Children are usually placed in the program through self referral, but are sometimes referred by Court Appointed Special Advocates or the Department of Child Services, Witmer said.
Kali Vaughn, now an account manager at Impact Networking and former mentee of Danell Witmer, said she believes she was chosen by her teacher to be in the organization because she was the child of a single mother.
Vaughn said her and Witmer would play games in the library and on the playground at school and then began going to concerts when she grew older.
“Growing up as an only child, it was really beneficial too. I just think it was a great experience personally for me that I still can benefit from at the age of 24,” Vaughn said.
Witmer said the length of mentorships in South Central Indiana are 30% longer than the national average. She said this was why they have been awarded the Quality Award from the national Big Brothers Big Sisters office.
Witmer said the organization asks volunteers to dedicate one hour a week for one year to their mentee. She said students might get scared that they don’t have the time for that commitment.
Chris Brake, president of Big Brothers Big Sisters at IU, is also a big brother in the organization.
Brake said his experience from the past four years of his college experience has helped him to manage his time as he prioritizes being a big brother.
Brake’s little brother in the organization loves to play basketball, so he often takes him to a park nearby. He said they also often play laser tag or go to arcades.
Brake said the club at IU prioritizes the potential of these kids and works to provide resources for them to help with school and general life issues.
The hesitancy to volunteer is usually because of time, Brake said, but he believes there is always more time.
“If I think about it, there's always some point where I'm wasting time,” Brake said. “So rather than waste time by watching Netflix or something, I could spend two hours a week pouring into a child's life and trying to better their lives.”
To volunteer, visit bigsindiana.org, call 812-334-2828, visit the office at 501 N. Walnut St., or contact Big Brothers Big Sisters of South Central Indiana through social media.