All in the family

All kids need positive role models. Usually, that’s a job for parents. But what if a child has lost one or both parental role models, either through death, divorce, abandonment or some other situation?

“Bigs” and “littles”: The local chapter of Big Brothers Big Sisters serves more than 650 boys and girls. Above, Makel (left) and Chris.

For decades, the national organization Big Brothers Big Sisters has worked to help fill the void in single-parent households or for those children who may have no parents at all.

Locally, Big Brother Big Sisters of Western North Carolina has been providing mentors for 25 years, and currently serves more than 650 boys and girls. Nationwide, the total served last year was 242,000.

On Saturday, Sept. 15, at Martin Luther King Jr. Park in Asheville, the local BBBS chapter will celebrate its silver anniversary with a festival and a concert. The event will help spotlight the agency and make the public aware of the constant need for more volunteers to mentor children ages 6 through 14 in the chapter’s eight-county region.

A family festival will kick off the event from 1 to 4 p.m. and will include Cassi the Clown & Friends, magician Bill Grimsley, Teddy the Tourist, inflatable bouncers, Terrance Simien’s Creole for Kidz, and youth performances. Tickets are $5 per family (up to five people).

Afterwards, a benefit concert with Terrance Simien and the Zydeco Experience, The Steves and Brushfire Stankgrass begins at 6:30 p.m., also at the park. Food from local restaurants, as well as beer and wine, will be available. Tickets for the concert are $10 per guest. Every penny raised goes back to BBBS programs, according to Development Director Ashley Vandewart.

Alisa (left) and Heidi.

In BBBS, “Bigs” and “Littles” spend time together forming a friendship, she says. In the traditional program, they participate in activities in the community such as hiking on the Parkway, playing ball or baking cookies. In BBBS’ site-based program, Bigs and Littles see each other at the child’s school or local recreation center. They spend time playing games, completing homework or simply having lunch together. According to studies from the national organization, the impact can be profound: For example, Littles are 52 percent less likely to skip school, 46 percent are less likely to begin using illegal drugs, and most are more likely to get along with their families and peers.

Regardless of a child’s particular situation, “They need an extra adult in their life to give them support,” Vandewart says. There is always a need for more mentors, and currently there is a waiting list of nearly nine months for mentors for little boys, she says.

“We want everyone in WNC to know what these kids face, and that they just need that one little push—and that’s what Big Brothers Big Sisters gives to these young people,” says Vandewart.

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