The West End Elementary School honor roll student is one of more than 20 school-age children in Floyd County waiting on a match from Big Brothers Big Sisters of Gordon, Floyd, Bartow and Chattooga Counties Inc.
Partnered with the Northwest Georgia Boys and Girls Clubs in Rome, BBBS volunteer coordinator Jamie Butler is helping children like Steven find mentors.
“It’s about having a friend,” said Butler, 25, a former state DFACS case manager. “Every day, Steven comes into my office and says, ‘Where’s my match?’”
Steven’s match could come from any number of volunteers age 18 or older interested in befriending a young person.
“A Big Brother or Sister doesn’t take the place of a parent. They just take their ‘Little’ to places the parent cannot,” she added.
Tammy Hart, 30, Boys and Girls Club education director, says the program has benefited her daughters, Katamara, 10, and Carlesha, 8.
“With me being a single parent, it allows the Big Sister to take them where I can’t because I’m working all day,” said Hart. “It gives them someone they can lean on. Katamara is the oldest and I depend on her to do a lot of things. If she has a Big Sister, it takes a lot of (pressure) off her.”
As Carlesha’s Big Sister, Kristi Altman, 20, a Shorter College sophomore, said she finds the program gratifying.
“It’s fun. You get to do things you wouldn’t normally get to do,” said Altman, comparing the program to a second childhood.
“Swimming, going to McDonald’s, you get to be a kid. And on top of that, you get to know a child better.”
The program serves children aged 6 to 14, most from single-parent homes. There are several one-to-one programs available for prospective mentors and each requires one hour per week. Most mentors are recruited through a parent, school, church or self-referral.
Applicants are given criminal background checks and provide three references. Coordinators verify applicants’ driving records and inspect their homes for safety hazards.
“Interviews are pretty in-depth,” said Butler. “And we ask our volunteers about preferences. I’ve yet to decline any child because of race.”
So far, the program’s main office in Calhoun and the Rome satellite office, which opened in December, have matched 16 “Bigs” and “Littles,” said Butler.
Founded in 1904, the non-profit program now has more than 500 chapters nationwide. The local chapter, founded in 1992, relies on grants and public and private donations to fund its operations.
Butler announced Monday the program’s second-annual “Pink Flamingo” fund-raising event.
For $25, a “flock” of 15 plastic flamingo lawn ornaments can be sent as a surprise greeting. Proceeds go toward the program.
“We go out and put the birds in someone’s yard, usually when they’re at work. When they get home, a greeting sign and the birds are waiting on them,” said Butler.
The birds are on display at the Rome-Floyd County Law Enforcement Center on Fifth Avenue until 4 p.m. today.
Meanwhile, Steven bides his time at the Boys and Girls Club. He said he hopes he can find a Big Brother who likes to play kickball, pool and who likes to go to the movies.
“He’s just the type of kid that makes you want to take him home,” said Butler. “He’s so sweet.”
To order a flock of pink flamingos or for information about becoming a Big Brother or Big Sister, contact the program’s main office in Calhoun at (706) 629-6029. The Rome satellite office, located inside the Boys and Girls Club at 100 Gadson St., can be contacted at 234-8782. For online information, including a volunteer application and picture page, visit http://www.bbbs.roman.net