At approximately 11:10 a.m. every Friday morning, I quickly gather my belongings and hop into my car to make a ten minute trek to West Tampa Elementary School. After picking up a visitor sticker and giving a brief hello to the office staff, I head to the back of the school and let myself into the third grade classroom where my little sister Shirley is waiting.
That’s when the fun begins.
For one full hour every week I hang out with Shirley at her school. I normally show up right around “special” time when her class goes to art, music and P. E., where I watch as the teachers try and focus Shirley’s energetic class into painting bowls of ice cream or playing songs on the xylophone.
After the half-hour cornucopia of creativity, we all head to lunch. Shirley and I usually find ourselves sitting outside eating at a picnic table usually with several of her classmate guests. Lunchtime discussions often consist of how class is going, who has a crush on whom, and why carrots are healthy. Time permitting, I try and take Shirley over to the library for a quick book or a game of Chutes and Ladders (which I’ve recently discovered I’m awful at).
Founded in 1904, Big Brothers Big Sisters is one of the oldest mentoring programs in the nation, providing many with the opportunity to experience scenarios like the one I just described.
The main mission of the program is to create one-on-one mentoring relationships to help build brighter futures for those children who need and want them. Research has shown that little brothers and sisters are much less likely to skip school, engage in violent acts, consume alcohol, or use illegal drugs than those children that do not have a mentor. Anecdotal evidence also shows an increase in the levels of self- esteem, confidence, schoolwork performance, and relationships from those enrolled in the program.
I first turned my application in to the Big Brothers Big Sisters program last October, after noticing their display in Vaughn Lobby. By the beginning of December, I found myself matched and making my initial visit to Shirley’s classroom. It has now been about four months since I started my visits, and I love every minute I get to spend with my little. It truly is a rewarding feeling to see her smile when I surprise her by buying little gifts, bringing in my guitar to show the class, or popping in to say hello on days other than Friday.
Although the matching process from beginning to end is lengthy, it’s due mainly to security issues. Because of the mentors’ responsibilities involving other peoples’ children, fingerprints are taken at the interview and an extensive criminal background check is completed. The processing time accounts for the bulk of the month-and-a-half waiting period. All that an applicant must do after they are selected for the program and matched is attend a training session, which usually takes an afternoon.
The Big Brothers Big Sisters program just recently made its way to the University of Tampa’s campus in fall 2005. There are currently seventeen students that are involved in the program from UT, and so far their responses toward it have been very positive.
“I love it,” said junior mentor Sabina Bien-Aime. “My little is an amazing child. I like working with her because she seems like she is interested in me as a mentor. We