Big Brothers Big Sisters’ Military Mentoring Program
As the country oldest and largest, one-to-one mentoring organization, Big Brothers Big Sisters of America (BBBSA) understands the stresses of everyday military life to service men, women, and the children of military members. BBBSA began its support of military families following several studies that found more than two million children and their families have experienced the stress of the deployment of a family member during the recent wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. These studies showed that the deployment of parents confronts children with a series of developmental challenges and stresses. The studies also found that separation from a parent has the potential to deprive a child of the support and nurture which that parent provides; but, in a military context, the child also has to contend with realistic fears about their parent’s welfare.
According to John Kendricks, Executive Director of Big Brothers Big Sisters of the Coastal Empire (BBBSCE), BBBSA began its’ Military Mentoring program after receiving funding from the T. Boone Pickens and the Jack in the Box Foundations to serve military families in 2008. Kendricks relates that his agency did not receive funds from the initial investment as the agency was just beginning operations in this area; however, as a result of the initial investments, BBBSA agencies across the country have served an estimated 2,000 children of military families since 2008.
Kendricks, who is a retired US Air Force veteran, states that though his agency did not received funds to serve military families, he made his first military match in August 2009 after the child was referred to them by his school psychologist. The Little was matched with local businessman Michael Heagy just as the father was preparing to deploy to Iraq. Kendricks relates the match relationship lasted for more than two years even after the father returned from his deployment. Today the match considers each other as family. Kendricks relates his second military match involved a businessman from Richmond Hill who would drive to Hinesville to see Little Brother. Kendricks states this was a very difficult match as the father had deployed before the match began and the Little was a special need kid. Additionally, the mother was also suffering from physical illness so the Big Brother became more than just a friend; he became the stabilizing agent in the relationship often going to parent teacher conferences and other meetings because the mother was unable to do so. Kendricks that this matched lasted for one year until the family PCS’d.
In 2010 BBBSA received a grant from the Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention (OJJDP) to serve “high-risk” (kids involved with the juvenile justice system) and military children. Kendricks states that only the BBBS agency in Macon was chosen agency in Georgia to receive funds. Kendricks goes on to say that BBBSA realized they needed to improve the service to the military community, so they hired retired Army Lt. Colonel Rodney Davis as its National Director. Immediately after taking office, Colonel Davis began re-structuring the program to serve more combat bases like Fort Stewart/Hunter and Fort Benning. Both BBBS agencies in Savannah and Columbus then received supplemental funds to support servicing more military children in September 2012. Under this agreement, Kendricks relates that he must serve a minimum of 45 military children by the end of September 2013. Kendricks relates that his agency also received a follow-on grant to serve another 25 children by the end of December 2013. Kendricks relates under the agreement, he can serve military children in either School-Based Mentoring or Community-Based Mentoring. In School-Based Mentoring, the volunteer only see the child at the child’s school and the focus is on educational achievement. In Community-Based Mentoring, the volunteer and child meet in the community and the focus is on fun activities that help them build a lifelong friendship.
Kendricks relates that his program is highly sought after by parents, teachers, counselors, probation officers and others throughout the Coastal Empire. The agency has a large waiting list, especially for boys where the waiting time to find a Big Brother can be up to two or more years. But, as a result of the grant funding from OJJDP, military children go to the top of the list and they are progressed and matched as soon as possible. However, Kendricks states that he is faced with two challenges in providing service to the military community; identifying military children who want to participate in the program and finding male volunteers to mentor as more boys are normally enrolled than girls. “We hope our partnership with the Military Child Education Coalition will enable us to serve more military children” states Kendricks. As a former Big Brother himself, Kendricks feels that few programs have the impact for the child, volunteer, and family as does Big Brothers Big Sisters.
If you would like to find out more about the BBBS program, become a mentor or refer a child; please contact Mr. Kendricks at 912-401-5390
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