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'March Matchness' Underway At Big Brothers/Big Sisters


Big Brothers/Big Sisters chapters are hoping a new volunteer recruiting campaign this month, 30 matches in 30 days, will prove to be a slam dunk.

With March Madness underway, college basketball’s postseason, the agency is tipping off “March Matchness.” Paula Shell is President and CEO of Big Brothers/Big Sisters of Northwest Florida, which stretches between Pensacola and Panama City.

“One of the things that we do at Big Brothers/Big Sisters that’s always ongoing for us is volunteer recruitment,” said Shell. “So it’s trying to get people to get the word out about stepping up to become mentors, which we call ‘Bigs.’ For the month of March, we’re trying to recruit 30 bigs in 30 days.”

Currently across the Panhandle service area, there are about 200 kids, ages six to 18, who are awaiting a mentor. Shell says of those, roughly seven in ten are boys so the emphasis is on more men volunteering. She adds that to be a “big” (the kids are called “littles”) one doesn’t have to be Superman or Wonder Woman.

“Eighteen years or older; you can be 118 as long as you have a passion and a love for children,” said Shell. “We consider the kids we service are the community’s most vulnerable. The primary focus is on single-parent families so it’s just really trying to find that extra support that we can provide these single-parent homes.”

Once volunteers sign up to be bigs, they have a choice of match, either school-based or community-based.

“School-based is just one hour a week; you would be matched with a little at a local school close to your work site,” said Hand. “The community-based mentoring is where you do it on your own time – evenings, weekends, whatever’s convenient to your schedule.”

The mentoring criteria are identical in both school-based and community programs. Shell says prospective volunteers undergo a very detailed interview process, including what type of child with whom they would be comfortable. The potential bigs also go through a very extensive background screening.

Credit Dave Dunwoody, WUWF Public Media
Paula Shell, President and CEO of Big Brothers/Big Sisters of Northwest Florida

“There are certain things that could disqualify you,” says Shell. “If you have too many moving violations or DUIs; those type large things. A ticket here or there – that’s not going to bump you out. We check references; really, it’s like a job interview.”

One of the procedures at Big Brothers/Big Sisters is “same-gender matching” – men with boys, girls with women. Shell says one exception is matching big sister to little brother, if the boy is under the age of ten.

“And then once they reach ten years of age we’ll go back in and reassess the match, to see if a male influence needs to be brought in.”

Big Brothers/Big Sisters served 616 children in Northwest Florida last year.  CEO Paula Shell says the goal for 2018 is to have a five percent increase in the number of kids served.

“We have to have a constant steady stream of volunteers coming through that door to be able to match with those kids.”

All mentoring relationships are professionally supported by a Match Specialist who helps the match set goals, find activities to do, and check in on the Little’s grades and progress. For more information, or to get the ball rolling on becoming a “Big,” contact Big Brothers/Big Sisters of Northwest Florida at 433-KIDS, or online at www.bbbsnwflorida.org.