History of Big Brothers Big Sisters of Elkhart County
Big Brothers Big Sisters of Elkhart County has been in existence since 1972. Trying to address incidents of delinquent behavior, Mayor Dan Hayes, Juvenile Probation, along with many other youth serving agencies felt that a mentoring organization such as Big Brothers could benefit boys in Elkhart County by providing positive models and guidance. The Heart City Kiwanis gave the seed money to start the program and many other local organizations, businesses and individuals donated the necessary equipment and supplies for start up purposes. In 1974, Big Sisters was added, providing role models to girls in Elkhart County. Big Couples mentoring was added in 1988 and in 1997 the agency added Big Families. A partnership with a local school and seminary resulted in a supervised on-site mentoring program during 1998, now called Lunch Buddies.
The local agency is a full member affiliate of Big Brothers Big Sisters of America (BBBSA), which has been in existence in 1904. Big Brothers Big Sisters of America is the premier mentoring organization in the US operating in all 50 states and 12 countries worldwide. In order to maintain this affiliation, the agency is reviewed annually to assure that the national standards and guidelines are followed.
Big Brothers Big Sisters of Elkhart County enlists responsible individuals to act as mentors, positive role models, and seeks to enhance the confidence, caring and competence of growing children in need of friendship and guidance enriched by professional support. Volunteers are assigned to children as Big Brothers, Big Sisters, Big Couples, Big Families, Activity Bigs and Lunch Buddies. Volunteers spend 1 to 5 hours each week with a child in on-site or community-based settings. Volunteers are also assigned to children as ‘Activity Bigs’ in which they spend time with a child once a month.
Volunteers and children are thoroughly screened by professional staff members to assess eligibility. One a volunteer and child are “matched,” they receive ongoing supervision, guidance and support by the professional staff. Evaluations are conducted regularly with the parent, child and volunteer to determine behavior and attitudinal changes of the child. There are no fees for youth to have a mentor in our program.
The Elkhart County agency moved in 1990 to the geographic center of Elkhart County on CR 13. The program serves all of Elkhart County and the fringe of St. Joseph County, Indiana and Cass County Michigan. Big Brothers Big Sisters of Elkhart County works with children in need of role models and additional adult support. Children are primarily from single parent families. Also, children may be raised by both their grandparents, have a disabled parent or involved with the juvenile justice system. Additionally, children may have suffered some trauma that causes them to need additional support at a particular time.
BBBS of Elkhart County is governed by a volunteer Board of Directors. The membership of the Board is diverse, reflecting the many facets of the community, volunteer base and client population. The Board takes an active interest in the future direction of the agency and in fundraising efforts. The Executive Director oversees the day to day operations of the agency. Besides the Director, the agency employs one full time case manager. The professional staff has a minimum of a Bachelor’s Degree in human services related fields and stay abreast of new trends and issues through continuing education and conferences. The staff is involved in the local community with issues such as child welfare/safety, violence prevention and volunteerism.
Over 57% of funds donated to Big Brothers Big Sisters of Elkhart County are given through the Fall Dinner Auction and Bowl For Kids’ Sake fundraisers. The remaining revenue comes from individual contributions, the annual campaign and through various grants. The annual cost to maintain one match for Big Brothers Big Sisters of Elkhart County for the first year is $1,000. Every contribution we receive helps us to achieve our goal of matching every disadvantaged child with a caring adult mentor.
Here is how the donations are used:
1. Extensive volunteer screening: Big Brothers Big Sisters has one of the most comprehensive screening processes for volunteers in the nation, running extensive criminal history background checks, driving record checks, and sexual offender registry checks to assure the safety of the children we serve.
2. Making the Match: Each volunteer candidate is interviewed by our case managers to determine suitability. Their individual interests, background, personalities, even geographic locations, are carefully considered to ensure that they are matched wit the right child. Our expert social workers also meet with and prepare each child’s family, to make sure that they are ready to welcome this special new person into their lives.
3. Professional Match Supervision: Our staff of dedicated, trained social workers supervises every match, communicating frequently with “Bigs”, “Littles”, and families, providing expert advice and suggesting activities to ensure that the relationships are safe, fun, and rewarding for all involved.