More volunteers needed for Big Brothers Big Sisters

Getting more volunteers and students lined up is one of Susan Miller’s goals this summer.
Miller is the Big Brothers Big Sisters Odessa program coordinator. The school-based program started at Blackshear Elementary Magnet this fall. With close to 700 students and only one counselor, Miller said it took longer than anticipated to get set up.
“Right now, we have four active matches at Blackshear. We actually have one child there that’s waiting. I have an active match at Sam Houston (Elementary) and one that’s waiting and I have a … probably seven or eight kids scattered at different schools. My plan is to visit with them over the next month, get them enrolled in the program, so when school starts in August, they’ll be ready to go,” Miller said in a recent interview.
“Our goal this summer is volunteer recruitment. That seems to have been the hardest part. It takes a commitment to be a school-based volunteer and it also takes a job where you have an ability to leave work in the middle of the day and be able to go to the school for an hour once a week, so that’s been the challenge of just recruiting volunteers,” Miller said.
She added that she’d like to have 10 to 15 volunteers ready to go by the end of the summer. Miller said getting the students is not the issue.
She noted that having an office in Odessa at Connection Christian Church will help.
Volunteers must undergo an extensive screening process to be a big brother or sister.
“There are several different background checks that they go through. … It’s a tiered background, so we do one at the national level; we do one at the state; then we do a local. We check references. We talk to whoever they give us as references. There’s an interview process. That gives me a chance to get to know them. The orientation interview takes an hour and a half to two hours. There is training, but that is online. Once they enroll with us, they’re automatically sent the link to the online training so that eliminates a lot of time …,” Miller said.
She added that it may take extra time, but the bottom line is child safety.
“We do everything we can to make sure that the people that are coming into our program are going to work well with our kids. What we gain from that interview is information about them, their history, their interests, their hobbies. That helps us make a better match with the child. We try to find something they have in common with the child. … The more we get to know the volunteer, the better match we can make with the child,” Miller said.
In this program, volunteers have to be 18 or out of high school and there is no limit on age, she said.
“I think my oldest volunteer in Midland is 86. She’s a retired school teacher and she just keeps going. It doesn’t take a lot to plant a seed in a child. Most of our kids, have, they come from all different backgrounds. They come from all different places in their life. We have stories about the impact of life changing experiences that kids have been turned around from what could have been a life of crime have now moved toward something more healthy and productive. But there’s also the kids that they just need that little bit of extra one-on-one attention,” Miller said.
Annie Stanley, the educator at the Ellen Noel Art Museum, started giving of her time this fall.
“The program in Odessa differs from the one in Midland because Odessa is school-based. You don’t meet them outside school, so it’s a smaller time constraint. And you meet during the week, so the way it was first described to me was that you could do it during lunch hour, which I thought to mean I would eat lunch with the child,” Stanley said.
“I go during my lunch hour, but we don’t eat lunch. She’s already had lunch by the time I get there, so we get to spend time doing fun things. We’re not just eating and I leave, so it’s actually better,” Stanley added.
Initially, Stanley said she wanted to see what the student she was matched with was interested in, so Stanley bought a lot of different things.
“And it’s kind of stayed that way, so when I bring a bag I have a book that’s at her grade level that either we read together, or she reads to me. I always bring some kind of art activity. She really likes to play games, so I’ve got a good deck of Uno and I have Monopoly Junior,” Stanley said.
She added that the young girl likes everything she brings, so Stanley just tells her what she has and sees what she wants to do. But she always wants to have time for art.
“We stop and draw together, make Christmas ornaments at Christmas. Sometimes we’ll read together. Sometimes she’ll take a book and bring it back when she’s done. Sometimes we’ll read part of it together and she’ll take it home and finish it,” Stanley added.
At first, her student was reserved and doubted that Stanley would return. Over time, though, the girl got used to Stanley.
“I’ve gotten a lot out of it. The reason I had said I would do this in the beginning when I was approached about volunteering is that I know the history of Big Brothers Big Sisters. I think it’s really important program and I feel like if you see something that you want to have in your town, there’s lots of different ways that you can support that. But the real easy way is to go volunteer for it,” Stanley said.
She added that she knew it would just be an hour a week and she would encourage anybody to try it.
“But I don’t think I was prepared for how rewarding it would be because it’s really fun. Kids are fun. It’s fun to go and play Monopoly in the middle of the day. I love to read. It’s fun to share that with someone. I love to do art. And if she hadn’t liked those things, we wouldn’t be doing them … This is supposed to be a fun time. It’s supposed to be supportive.”