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Big Brothers Big Sisters Opens New Home

Bob Barrett

Big Brothers Big Sisters of Northwest Florida is celebrating their 30th anniversary this year, and has officially moved in to their new location in Pensacola. 

The sun was shining as Big Brothers Big Sisters of Northwest Florida President and CEO Paula Shell welcomed a few dozen people gathered outside the new headquarters on Creighton Road. “We are honored to welcome all of you to Big Brothers Big Sisters of Northwest Florida Bear Family Foundation Center for Hope.

During the brief ceremony, Shell thanked numerous organizations and individuals who contributed to the building campaign, and singled out the Bear Family Foundation whose name is on the building.

“This foundation has a heart for philanthropy in this community. They’ve contributed to numerous non-profits in our area. And they’ve been instrumental in our success over our 30 years. And back in April of last year, they committed a half a million dollar matching gift to Big Brothers Big Sisters 30th anniversary campaign.”

Credit Bob Barrett / WUWFNews
Lewis Bear Jr.

“Our family has been involved with Big Brothers Big Sisters since (its) founding,” said Lewis Bear Jr., the principal of the Bear Family Foundation. “We’ve always had a member of our family on the board. It’s just an organization that meets a great need in the community for mentoring young children. It’s just a wonderful opportunity to participate in such a worthwhile organization.”

Serveral people came to the dias to welcome and speak to the crowd at the ribbon cutting, including Hong Potomski, the chair of the governing board of Big Brothers Big Sisters of Northwest Florida.

“On behalf of the board and staff, I would like to thanks each of you for joining us.” Potomski also pointed out that she has been a big sister for about six years. “When we first started it was so awkward. The conversations were very light. But over the years she’s gotten very open and very comfortable and now we hang out and do fun things that truthfully me, as an adult, probably shouldn’t be doing as an adult. To be able to experience life through a teenager’s eyes has been so rewarding. And to be able to open doors and opportunities for her, I think she has also been very grateful for (that).”

Big Brothers Big Sisters of Northwest Florida serves the five counties of the Panhandle from Escambia to Bay. CEO Paula Shell says the number of children looking for a big brother or sister is growing. “Last year we served 660 kids in a one-to-one relationship. Our goal this year is to tip over that 700 mark. And we currently have right around 200 kids on our waiting list, waiting for a big brother or big sister.”

Credit Bob Barrett / WUWFNews

And Shell says that about three quarters of those kids on the waiting list are boys, so there is a need for men to volunteer as “bigs." “You know a lot of those little boys are being raised by single mothers. We have a few dads in the mix but it’s mainly moms. And what they want is a good male role model for their son. Somebody who can show them how to be a man, how to have manners, how to treat women. Just the things that they don’t have time to do that (coming across from a man would mean a whole lot more than coming from their mom). It changes their direction, it changes their path in life.

A volunteer is asked to commit to at least weekly contact with their little, and at least two in person meetings a month. If you think you’d like to become a big brother of big sister, the number to call is 433-KI DS. 

Bob Barrett has been a radio broadcaster since the mid 1970s and has worked at stations from northern New York to south Florida and, oddly, has been able to make a living that way. He began work in public radio in 2001. Over the years he has produced nationally syndicated programs such as The Environment Show and The Health Show for Northeast Public Radio's National Productions.