Sometimes, all it takes to make a difference in someone’s life is time. A couple of hours spent with a child who may not have an influential adult in his or her life can make a noticeable transformation by positively impacting emotional well-being and behavior. Nineteen residents at Presbyterian Village North have seen these benefits firsthand while volunteering to spend their time shaping the lives of local students through the Big Brothers Big Sisters Program. This program matches an adult (a “big”) with a child (a “little”) based on questionnaires filled out by both applicants. The month of January is National Mentoring Month, and these special seniors are excited to get together with their littles from Hamilton Park Pacesetter Magnet School every Wednesday for refreshments, conversation, important bonding time and games.
“I look forward to and anticipate this special time each week,” said Presbyterian Village North resident Nell Wilson. “I was a teacher for 32 years, and I love seeing the growth that takes place in these children. Seeing shyness fade over time, the generational gap bridged and strong relationships form is an extremely satisfying experience.”
Not only do the bigs and littles spend an hour each week together, but they also share Christmas gifts, write letters and call each other to visit on the phone from time to time. The residents even invited their littles to their Christmas party at Presbyterian Village North and watched as they requested songs and sang along. Every week, they start their meetings with refreshments while they catch up on school and the happenings of their days. Then, they proceed to play games or do get-to-know-you worksheet activities.
“On the first day, I always tell my student that I am going to tell them all about how I grew up on a farm and spent my career teaching, and then encourage them to tell me about themselves,” said Wilson. “I don’t pressure them to open up; I just let them know that this is a safe space and tell them I have no reason to tell anyone their secrets. The children’s reactions are always positive, and I have come to think of them as my grandchildren.”
Wilson finds the Big Brothers Big Sisters program to be what she most looks forward to each week and loves their energy level and enthusiasm. She also enjoys learning the new games the children teach their bigs. She has come to realize how much she missed being a part of children’s lives and staying in touch with the younger generation.
Presbyterian Village North’s sister community, Grace Presbyterian Village, has been involved with Big Brothers Big Sisters since 2007 working closely with match support specialist Lisa Hritz.
“The Generations Mentoring Program benefits the kids by giving them someone to talk to, to look up to, and most importantly learn from,” said Hritz. “The kids love hearing about their bigs and how they lived their lives. At the same time, it gives both the bigs and littles joy and happiness to have a connection and makes them both feel good. Mentors and kids alike learn from each other in a mutually satisfying relationship. I am truly honored to witness all the smiles, laughs, and friendships formed.”
“I am very proud of our residents and the impact they are making in the lives of these children,” said Ron Kelly, executive director at Presbyterian Village North. “But, I am also grateful to the students because I see the happiness they bring our residents. It is uplifting to walk through the halls and hear laughter from both our residents and the students and know that all of their lives are being positively changed.”