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News >  Idaho

Someone to count on

With the new school term only 5 1/2 weeks away, Big Brothers Big Sisters is in need of adult mentors for children.

“We need an adult for every child,” said Brusan Wells, development director for Big Brothers Big Sisters of the Inland Northwest. “For everyone that is matched, there’s one waiting in line.”

A “Big” is the adult mentor to the “Little,” or the child who is the mentee.

Bigs can participate in the community program, which involves spending time with the Little outside of school or the Bigs in School program, where the Big interacts with the Little during their lunch hour at school.

A new program, Mentoring Children of Prisoners, was initiated with a $115,000 government grant in January. Wells said that seven out of 10 children who have an incarcerated parent will end up incarcerated themselves without an adult mentor.

“If we go out and spend time with our kids, we build a better society,” said Ruth Rahimi, match coordinator.

Littles can enter the program at age 6 to 14 for girls and 7 to 14 for boys. They can stay in the program until they are 18 if they wish.

“This is not a replacement for mom and dad,” Wells said. “It is just to have another adult they can count on in their life. The focus is on relationship building.”

Any adult who is willing to be a mentor can do so, after going through the screening process, which takes four to six weeks. Big Brothers/Big Sisters is working to streamline the process, without compromising the safety of the children.

“Every day that goes by we are missing an opportunity for a child,” Rahimi said.

In Kootenai County, there is no charge for a background check. So far, Wells said, nothing “questionable” has happened in this jurisdiction.

“We apply the most stringent rules to both (Idaho and Washington),” Wells said. “The national organization did a study, and out of 170,000 matches that were reviewed, only nine matches turned out to be questionable matches that needed intervention.”

More screening is involved for the community program. Five reference requests are sent out, and they must receive three back. Big Brothers Big Sisters does a home inspection at the Big’s home, as well as an in-depth interview. After six months, Big Brothers Big Sisters conducts a match review, to make sure everything is going well.

For the Bigs in Schools program, only one reference is required, but Idaho applicants still must go through the background checks with the Kootenai County Sheriff’s Department and Idaho State Patrol.

Big Brothers Big Sisters has high expectations from their Bigs. Appropriate behavior is expected, and they are trained as to what is appropriate and what is not.

John Humphreys, 56, started out in the Bigs in School Program at the beginning of the school year in 2004. He mentored a fourth-grader at Borah Elementary. Humphreys is an airline transport pilot for Pilot Services in Coeur d’Alene, flying a Lear jet. He started flying in high school. Humphreys has three children, two grown daughters and a 15-year-old son.

“One of the reasons I got into this program, is because I kind of felt like I owed somebody,” Humphreys said.

When he was a boy, his folks introduced him to a pilot who took the time to answer all of his questions. It made a real impression on him that the man took the time to sit and talk with him.

“You never know when you’re going to light a little fire in a child’s mind,” Humphreys said.

He quickly found that the Bigs in School was not enough, so he went into the community program when summer came around so he could continue mentoring his Little. The first thing they did was go to the Coeur d’Alene airport to see the airplane, because his Little had been anxious to see it all throughout their relationship. They sat in the jet and Humphreys answered all of his questions about it. They also went boating, and he pulled his Little behind the boat on a tube, the boy’s first time tubing.

Humphreys said he has told his Little that whatever he can dream, and really set his mind to it, the opportunity is there.

One way Big Brothers Big Sisters hopes to encourage more adults to become Bigs is by making presentations at businesses. Wells said that mentoring a child actually increases employee productivity by 70 percent, according to Big Brothers Big Sisters national statistics, as well as improving employee retention and moral by 80 percent, and boosting teamwork skills by 90 percent.

“It gives them (the employees) a break, something to look forward to,” Rahimi said. “We have social problems that overwhelm us; it’s got to happen in the community. The kids are so resilient. They’re ready.”

Another grant the group is focusing on is one where high school students, beginning at age 16, can become a Big Brother or Big Sister. Couple’s matches are becoming popular, too, where a couple mentors a child together. A father and son age 16 or older, or a mother and daughter age 16 or older can also mentor together.

“We ask everyone to make a year commitment,” said case manager Jackie Sunday. “Their job is not to be a counselor or a therapist, just to spend time with a child.”

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