Program pairs THS, elementary students
When Tonganoxie High School senior Sara Herdman attended a youth leadership meeting in 2005, she met children who were waiting for Big Brothers or Big Sisters.
And she learned about the "Bigs" program, which partners grade school children with high school students. The younger and older students meet periodically at the younger child's school.
Sara now has a "little sister" who attends classes at Tonganoxie Elementary School. Sara meets with the girl for about 40 minutes once a week.
"We just sit there and talk sometimes, and sometimes we play games," Sara said. "It's an amazing feeling knowing ... that you really mean the world to them when you just take the time to do simple things."
Sara said about 15 THS students had applied to be Bigs, and all 15 have passed required background checks and the interview process.
THS principal Tatia Shelton said when Sara asked about starting a Bigs program at the high school, she thought it was a good idea. At a previous high school where Shelton worked, a Bigs program was in place.
And now, with a few Bigs and Littles matched, the project is starting to take off. Shelton said she was particularly pleased about a recent call she received from the mother of a grade school student.
"She said she knew about it and said, 'How do I go about getting my child signed up,'" Shelton said.
Senior Casey Davis had a little brother at the grade school, but the boy recently moved out of town.
"He was really shy, so I think he was excited to get to do things," Casey said, noting the two played on the playground, read books, worked on word puzzles and other games.
It was a rewarding experience for Casey.
"I love working with kids, and I thought it would be a good opportunity for me to get involved in our school a little more and work with somebody who is really in need," Casey said.
After she graduates from high school, Casey will be eligible to participate as a Big Sister in the community. But she said it's likely she'd postpone that until after she finishes college.
Victoria Fort is a Big to a grade school student.
"We play a lot of card games and board games and talk, and we're going to start making jewelry and things too," Victoria said.
She's worked with the student for about 40 minutes a week for five months.
And, Victoria plans to continue with the Big Sister when she goes to college next year.
"It's a great opportunity," Victoria said. "You have a chance to change someone's life and they have a role model to look up to if they don't have one. It's just a great opportunity to meet kids and just make a difference in their lives."
Though the program has taken off at the high school, there are still about 10 more high school students eager to be Bigs than there are younger children signed up for the program.
"The hardest part now is getting the elementary school kids," Sara said. "We have six or seven matches now for Big Brothers and Big Sisters."
Sara said she hoped if anyone knew of children who might benefit from the program, they'd contact the grade school.
"Because we have a lot of high school kids willing to come and visit with them," Sara added.