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Bigs With Badges Gets A Big Boost

Bob Barrett

A program that pairs children in need with mentors just got a nice financial boost. “When I saw this, Bigs with Badges, I thought that goes to the heart of what we do,” said Maggie Williams, the public relations director at Wind Creek Hospitality. Wind Creek just made a $10,000 donation to Big Brothers/Big Sisters of Northwest Florida and their Bigs with Badges program.

“When we connect kids who have a need, and we can connect them with people in the community that are making a difference, I think that that has a ripple effect. More so than maybe just sponsoring a dinner or a run or something like that. I think that this maybe has an impact that we can see for the future.”

The Bigs with Badges program pairs children with members of law enforcement and anyone else who wears a badge. Paula Shell is the president and CEO of Big Brothers/Big Sisters of Northwest Florida. She says the program was launched about three years ago. “Our agency currently right now has about 15 or so bigs with badges. And our national organization calls the program Bigs in Blue, but we decided to extend that reach and call ours Bigs with Badges so that we could tap into law enforcement, we can tap into fire (departments), we can tap into EMS, we can tap into corrections, anybody that is wearing a badge. We just didn’t want to limit that.”

“For us to be a role model and help the community, that’s what we’re all about,” said Dennis Youngren, an officer with the Gulf Breeze Police Department. When he became a big brother two years ago, he was paired with a child who Big Brothers/Big Sisters thought would benefit from spending time with a cop. “He had some unfortunate events happen with him because of something that happened with his father, so they felt that maybe having a law enforcement officer involved in his life would help him grow and just help him out in the long run.”

Officer Youngren says he has seen positive changes in his little since they’ve been together.

“He and I have been matched since he was seven going on eight (and) his behavior is 100% better than what it was. I’m not saying he was a bad kid, (but) he was very closed off and closed minded and now he’s open and involved in football (and other things) it’s just (been) a good thing for him.”

A short ceremony was held to commemorate Wind Creek’s donation to Big Brother/Big Sisters of Northwest Florida at their new headquarters on Creighton Road in Pensacola. Former Pensacola Police Chief David Alexander was there. He has been involved as a big brother for many years. “As a sergeant I began to be involved in the Big Brothers/Big Sisters program by being matched with a little brother. And so throughout the years I’ve maintained a consistent match and a lot of those young folks that I was matched with, we still are in contact with each other. And I’m actually currently still matched with a young man that is a sophomore at Washington High School.”

Alexander says the Big with Badges program goes a long way toward building better relationship with young people and law enforcement.

“One of the things I’ve learned over the years is that officers that were in schools or officers that were in programs outside of school, they had relationships that gave them influential power with young people. In other words, if (a young person gets into a) bad situation (the officer can say) hey, I think you should leave, I think you should go home. And it’s not because of the authority that the badge brought, it’s because of the relationship that was between that badge and that child.”

This year Big Brothers/Big Sisters of Northwest Florida is holding their 30th anniversary campaign. They serve bigs and littles from Pensacola to Panama City. 

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.