ORIGINALLY WRITTEN JANET HAMOUS
by Janet Hamous
The Free Press
Elizabeth Brown and Clarissa Terronez of Peabody can’t wait for school to start. A new school year also means the beginning of the Bigs in Schools program that matched them as Big Sister/Little Sister.
What began more than a year ago as an opportunity for Brown to volunteer and Terronez to have a mentor has blossomed into a special relationship and what may be a lifelong friendship.
Brown, a senior at Peabody-Burns High School, became involved in the Bigs in Schools program at the end of her sophomore year, soon after the program began in Peabody in January 2002.
“I was told there were a lot of girls who needed Big Sisters,” Brown said.
The Bigs in Schools program is part of Big Brothers Big Sisters of Marion County and is designed to provide high school and adult mentors to junior high and grade school students.
“The high school offers a community service class, so they can sign up for an hour that they spend mentoring at the junior high or grade school,” said Robi Alstrom, case manager for the Peabody program.
Students may also volunteer for the program during their study hall.
Alstrom said the activities that “Bigs” and “Littles” do together during the visits depend on the needs of the child.
“It’s really pretty open to whatever facilities allow,” she said. “We have some people who go to the art room and do art projects; we’ve had some that will go to the home ec room and cook.
“A lot of the guys play sports. They can go out on the playground, they do homework, they read together. We have games available. Some do computer projects together.”
In her role as Big Sister, Brown visited the grade school twice a week. She spent one day working directly with Terronez and the other day in Terronez’s sixth-grade classroom.
“We played basketball outside when it was warm, we played card games, and she showed me pictures of her family,” Brown said. “We played board games when it was cold. We walked around and talked, and she talked to me about her family.”
Terronez said Brown also helped her with school projects.
“The best part is just being with her,” she said. “It’s fun having someone to talk to who understands me. Elizabeth is someone to look up to. I’m the oldest, so I don’t have a big sister.”
Brown would be a good role model for anyone. She is active in National Honor Society, cheerleading, Business Professionals of America, youth court and FCCLA. She plans to go to KU and major in pre-med.
Brown said she gets as much from the program as she gives. Since she has no younger siblings, Terronez is like a little sister to her.
“Every time I go down the street, she waves to me and says hi and comes up and gives me hugs at games, and it’s really nice,” she said.
But her greatest reward is “knowing that I’m helping her,” Brown said.
“When I first got there she didn’t really like school,” she added. “But we would read together, and she started to do better. I think she really started to enjoy it more.
“She was kind of shy at the beginning, and now she’s a lot more outgoing and talks to me about all of her friends. She shares a lot more with me.”
Terronez’s mom, Roxanne Dalke-Wallace, said the match has “been a blessing.”
“I was a single parent, and they asked if Clarissa wanted a mentor,” she said. “I was working full time and wasn’t able to do some of the things I wanted to do with her.”
She has watched her daughter grow under Brown’s mentorship.
“With everything Clarissa’s into with Elizabeth, she’s learned that she can balance her school work and sports and everything else,” said Dalke-Wallace. “Elizabeth has been really good about talking with Clarissa.”
Brown and Terronez will get to see each other more often this year since they’ll be in the same building, but they wish they could spend even more time together.
Participants in the Bigs in Schools program meet only during school time on school property unless they are also a community match. Brown is applying for a community match so they can get together outside of school.
“That way I can bring her over or we can go see a movie or something,” Brown said.
Alstrom said the switch from a school match to a community match is a positive result of the relationships created in the Bigs in Schools program.
“School time is a little bit limited, and you don’t have as much opportunity to do as many things,” she said. “It’s so exciting to me to see people make the commitment to the community match and taking it to the next level. We know that the longer the relationship goes on the greater the benefits to the child, like any friendship.”
Alstrom said the program is an excellent opportunity for high school students and adults to make a contribution to the community.
“We need more volunteers all the time,” she said. “We want to get more kids involved and reach more children. I’d sure like to see the adults in our community rise to the level of our high school students.
“These high school kids are the heart and soul of the program,” she added. “They give of their time and themselves, and they are the ones who are changing the lives in their community.”