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A LITTLE positive attention is a BIG deal PDF Print E-mail
Written by Denise Freitag Burdette   
Wednesday, January 30, 2013 9:57 PM

“It adds as much to your life as it does to the child,” said Diane Brownlee, Harrison.

Brownlee decided to become a part of the Big Brothers Big Sisters school site-based program after seeing an ad in The Harrison Press asking for volunteers.

Although still working part time, she had retired from her full-time job, leaving her with a little time on her hands, said Brownlee.

“I’ve never looked back and never regretted it,” she said.

Her connection with Little Sister, Lindsey, became so strong that the pair now participates in the community-based program, meeting outside of school.

They are just one of the many success stories for the Southeastern Indiana/Harrison program of Big Brothers Big Sisters of Greater Cincinnati.

In addition to many successful matches, in 2012 alone, volunteer and advisory board member Sara Chipman, Aurora, was named a Dearborn Community Foundation Heart of Gold recipient and Big Sister Suzzi Romines and Big Sister and advisory board member Nancy Ray, both of Lawrenceburg, were named Dearborn County Chamber of Commerce Women of Distinction.

Several volunteers also were honored by Big Brothers Big Sisters Greater Cincinnati. Bob Waples, Bright, was named Big Brother of the Year, Diane Brownlee, Harrison, Site-Based Big Sister of the Year, and Dan and Carole Funch, Moores Hill, Big Couple of the Year.

“There are so many youth in the area that could benefit from a friend and mentor,” said Laura Rolf, Big Brothers Big Sisters of Greater Cincinnati Community Development Director.

The first match in Dearborn County took place in 1982 between Pam Zerbe, a Lawrenceburg attorney at the time, and 11-year-old Gaye Lynn Walston, Aurora.

Currently the Indiana/Harrison program serves Dearborn, Ohio and Ripley counties in Indiana and Harrison, Ohio. The staff in Indiana includes Rolf; Kristi Eberhart, Indiana/Harrison School-Based Coordinator, and Amy Deaton, Case Manager.

The program has grown a lot through the years, said Rolf.

“When I began in 1998 there were two open matches. Being a part of the growth and expansion in our area has been thrilling and at times challenging,” she said.

With more volunteers and monetary resources, the program could reach even more children, said Rolf.

Volunteers can participate in a couple different ways. There are community-based volunteers, 18 years old or older, who serve as Big Brothers, Big Sisters, Couples for Kids and Family For Kids.

In the site-program, both adult volunteers/mentors and high school students serve as mentors. The site-based program currently is in Lawrenceburg Primary, Central Elementary, Greendale Middle and Harrison Elementary schools.

“A 12-month commitment is required for both programs with the option of another year or longer preferred,” said Rolf.

Out of site
Three years have gone by for Brownlee who met Lindsey when she was a third grader.

The process was simple. After she contacted BBBS, Kristi Eberhart came to her house for an interview. During the interview, Eberhart already had a match in mind for the site-based program, said Brownlee.

Lindsey said she waited a long time for a match. Then one day she was called to her school counselor’s office to meet Brownlee.

“I was very shy,” she said.

But the two bonded through their mutual love of arts and crafts, said Brownlee.

She would visit Lindsey once a week during lunchtime. They would eat lunch, then go to the science lab, she said.

She usually brought a project for them to do, said Brownlee.

“Then there were days we just sat and talked and visited,” she said.

“That little hour makes so much of a difference to that child,” said Brownlee.

Many times the hour seemed to go by so quickly, she said.

“We were never ready to go,” said Brownlee.

“It went so fast. ... I was looking forward to seeing Diane,” said Lindsey.

In the summer they would see each other a couple times during an event and keep in touch through letters delivered by BBBS. In the site-based program, the participants do not have access to each other’s home addresses, said Brownlee.

Now a sixth grader, Lindsey’s new school does not have a site-based program fully implemented, so they decided to switch to the community-based program, she said.

“True to form we usually go to my house for arts and crafts,” said Brownlee.

Other times they have gone to Aurora to watch the boats or stopped to see a movie.

“We play it by ear. We don’t make any grand plans. We just decide what we want to do,” said Brownlee.

Brownlee said she was shocked when she was told by Eberhart and Lindsey that she was chosen Site-Based Big Sister of the Year.

“You don’t feel like you are really doing that much to garner that kind of recognition. ... It’s an honor,” said Brownlee.

“I have gone through a lot of stuff in my life,” said Lindsey.

After being matched with Brownlee, she felt like “a weight had been lifted off her chest,” she said.

“I know I am safe with her. ... I like hanging out with her and doing fun stuff,” said Lindsey.

“I got another friend in life,” said Brownlee.

Friends for life
Like Brownlee, Carole Funch, Moores Hill, first contacted BBBS after reading about the need for volunteers in the newspaper. She participates in Couples for Kids with her husband, Dan, and their match of over six years, Lucas.

“It just seemed like the right thing for us at the time,” said Carole Funch.

She called Rolf, who interviewed the couple, with a match already in mind, she said.

The Funches were matched with Lucas, who was in sixth grade. After meeting, both the couple and Lucas had the chance to decide if the match was right for each them. It was.

“Of course, right away we loved him,” said Carole Funch.

At first, the Funches had to compete with video games for Lucas’ attention, she said.

But they eventually got him away from the screen, with a variety of activities from taking him on bike rides to teaching him to fish. He became more involved with sports, even running a 5K.

Dan Funch also taught Lucas how to drive.

“It’s an experience to get together with kids like that and see them change through the years. It is very nice. ... It’s been a lot of fun,” said Dan Funch.

If he was not “getting on in years” he would do it all over again, he said.

“It’s such a wonderful program. It really is. ... They are really good about being there for you,” said Carole Funch.
BBBS is there to support you, including offering a variety of activities from a ride on B & B Riverboats to tickets to a Reds game, said Dan Funch.

“They have so many programs you can do. ... The program itself gives the kids opportunities they never had before,” he said.

She knew Lucas finally felt completely comfortable around them when he came to the house one day and asked if they had any snacks, laughed Carole Funch.

Now a teenager, they do not see Lucas quite as often, but continue to be involved. Sometimes they go to grab a bite to eat, play board games with him and his girlfriend or just hang out.

“We have all said we will be friends forever,” said Carole Funch.

She is excited to see what he will do in life, she said.

“He is bigger than I am now. We have watched him grow up,” said Dan Funch.

“I think it is an opportunity to have an influence on a young man’s life,” he said.

In the BBBS newsletter article about the Funches being named Big Couple of the Year, Lucas said he wants to be a Big Brother someday because of what he has learned from the couple. He already has volunteered as a grade school tutor.

“He says he’d like to make another Little as happy as his Bigs have made him,” according to the newsletter.

Meant to be
Suzzi Romines has been a BBBS volunteer for over 25 years. She was named the Regional Big Sister of the Year in 1995 and named a 25-year volunteer/Hall of Fame recipient in 2011.

Through the years she has been matched with six Little Sisters, Melanie, Lisa, Maggie, Jenny, Paula and now, Searcy.

“For me, Finding Big Brothers/Big Sisters 27 years ago was like finding a piece of my purpose. I was raised in a one-parent family and we had no car, little money, but lots of support from caring neighbors and friends. Many took us under their wing and gave us much appreciated friendship. I, personally could have benefited from a Big Sister growing up; someone to talk to, take walks with, go to the movies with. When I later heard about the program and how I could become that kind of friend to child, I knew right where I belonged. I don’t think it was a coincidence. I think God had a hand in guiding me to Big Brothers Big Sisters of Greater Cincinnati,” said Romines.

Over the years she has enjoyed many “little moments” with her matches, from baking cookies to working out homework problems, she said.

“Through good times, even not so good times that my Littles have been faced with, I’ve told them all like I tell my own girls, ‘day or night, I’m will always be here for you.’ I encourage you to consider becoming a mentor for Big Brothers Big Sisters. Similar to what Sandra Bullock said in The Blind Side, ‘I’m not changing a child’s life; a child is changing mine,’” said Romines.

Will you help?
But along with the many success stories, there are many other kids in the this area waiting for someone to volunteer.

“There are youth in each county seeking a role model and friend. You can make a difference,” said Rolf.

All mentors are screened, interviewed and carefully matched with youth following BBBS of America Standards. Match support, including BBBS sponsored match activities, help to build developmental assets for youth and support safety for youth and volunteers. There are currently 120 matches, she said. 

Some of her best BBBS memories include “seeing youth join the program struggling in school and then graduating from high school and going on to college or trade school,” she said.

She also likes hearing the youth talk about their special memories and good choices they have made because of the program, she said.

If you can not help as a volunteer at this time, monetary and other donations also help.

Partners like the ASAP Center and program of the Health Foundation of Greater Cincinnati, Indiana Youth Institute supporting Youth Worker Cafes, Citizens Against Substance Abuse and the Local Coordinating Councils in Ohio and Ripley Counties, United Way of Greater Cincinnati, the Dearborn County Community Foundation, all the members of Dearborn County Step Ahead, RSVP, the libraries and many others have been key in our success, said Rolf. 

“For over 13 years Bill Reynolds and Wormies has sponsored our Fall Fun Day at Hickory Lakes and the City of Lawrenceburg with, first with Denny Lewis, then Wayne Caudill, have helped to make this the favorite activity for our matches,” said Rolf.

In 2011, a signature Big Brothers Big Sisters Bowl for Kids Sake fundraiser also was started in the area, she said.

“Our goal for 2013 is to raise $10,000. We are seeking sponsors and bowlers to participate,” said Rolf.

The bowling party will be held Sunday, March 10, at Durbin Bowl, Lawrenceburg, she said.

For more information, contact Rolf at 1-812-637-1235, 1-800-689-0636, lrolf2412@comcast.net or rolf@bigsforkids.org, or go to www.bigsforkids.org.

Last Updated on Wednesday, January 30, 2013 10:02 PM