OSKALOOSA – Big Brothers Big Sisters Program Manager Erin Parker has been on the job for almost a year now and while she has made significant strides in the direction of the organization, she is in need of volunteers to continue her efforts of finding “Bigs” for her “Littles.”
For nearly the first half of 2019, Mahaska County’s BBBS program was operated by staff from Johnson County, as the Parker underwent the hiring process and training for the job. During that time there was a halt of all new applications for mentors or mentees, as the Johnson County staff focused their attention on providing support to those already matched in the program.
By the end of May 2019, Parker was able to fully start the program back up and the first two goals on her list were to acquaint herself with all of her matches and contact everyone that applied to join the program during its downtime. Since then, Parker has created five matches and has plans to create many more with the help of men and women in the community.
“We definitely need volunteers,” she said. “That is our biggest need. We have kids who have been on the waitlist for quite a while, particularly boys. We have a ton of boys on the waitlist.”
The BBBS program requires that any boys over the age of 10 be matched with a male and any boys under 10 can only be matched with a female mentor with parental consent. Parker said the logic behind the rule is that boys over the age of 10 are approaching puberty and it could be more beneficial for them to have a male mentor than female. Parker also noticed that many of the littles that are currently on the waitlist tend to not have a male figure in their life, so a male mentor could potentially change that.
YMCA Program Director and Mahaska County BBBS Big Brother Levi Tarbell has been paired with his little, Derek Rotzinger, since October 2018. Tarbell said he went back and forth with himself for a year, questioning whether or not he would have the time to get involved or if the expectations of his little would be too much of a responsibility. One day Tarbell decided to put those fears of the commitment to the side and filled out the application to become a big brother.
“I have not regretted it since,” he said. “It’s been phenomenal! I think I say that word every time I’m asked, but it really has been. It’s been something that’s went well beyond expectations and it has been constantly growing. It’s been fun, it’s rewarding. The only thing that that I was bummed out about during this entire experience is that I can only mentor one kid because I truly didn’t understand that getting into it.”
Rotzinger said when he first got involved in the program he made the decision that once he turns 18 he would like to be a big brother to a young boy in the community as well.
“I thought it was really neat how people in the community go and help other kids,” he said. “[Taking] their time to help other kids that are somewhat like them and just help them feel better about themselves or comforted.”
For anyone looking to become a Big Brothers Big Sisters, you must be over the age of 18, with a clean background and driving record. Also, you must be willing to dedicate six hours a month to your little for an 18-month commitment. To get involved, you can fill out the volunteer identification card on the BBBS website at https://bbbsa.force.com/bbbsforms/s/?type=big.
“Most of our matches, if not all of them, go over six hours,” Parker said. “It’s really, really easy once you get started hanging out. It’s five o’clock when you pick them up and then suddenly seven. It’s super easy to do. Most of our matches are like, ‘Yeah, I don’t even notice the time flying.’”