Big Brothers Big Sisters builds friendships at WEMS

"Big" Neil Weintraub and "Little" R.J. Van Winkle crack jokes during a weekly Big Brothers Big Sister meeting at Williams Elementary-Middle School. (Wendy Howell/WGCN)

"Big" Neil Weintraub and "Little" R.J. Van Winkle crack jokes during a weekly Big Brothers Big Sister meeting at Williams Elementary-Middle School. (Wendy Howell/WGCN)

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Laine Hill works with his “Big” Victoria Payen on a project at Williams Elementary-Middle School April 5. (Wendy Howell/WGCN)

WILLIAMS, Ariz. — More than the snacks, more than the activities, hanging out with his “Big” is his favorite thing to do every Thursday, said “Little” Josh Van Winkle.

Van Winkle is one of several children at Williams Elementary-Middle School who participate in the Big Brothers Big Sisters program after school.

Several adult volunteers, including four Kaibab National Forest employees, meet with children every

Thursday at the school to play with them and build relationships. They are part of the Big Brothers Big Sisters school based mentoring program.

The Big Brothers Big Sisters program matches children in second through fifth grade, known as Littles, with positive adult mentors, known as Bigs. The matches start out their weekly meetings as a group to share a snack and do an activity such as working on an art project or playing a game.

Then the matches have one on one time together, during which they can do homework, play a board game, or play on the playground.

The Big Brothers and Big Sisters of Williams has offered a school-based mentoring program since 2003. The program has two sessions; a 10-week session in the fall and a 10-week session in the spring. Several Bigs have been working with Williams children since the program's inception.

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Lisa Jones and her “Little” Josh Van Winkle take a break from their activity at a weekly Big Brother Big Sister meeting. (Wendy Howell/WGCN)

The program is an opportunity for at-risk youth to engage in healthy alternatives to various high risk behaviors. Activities on and off-site include visits from guest speakers, field trips, job shadowing, sports and outdoor recreation, as well as other possibilities. Mentors are often just the type of positive influence that a young person needs to realize their own potential and navigate through the difficult teen years.

Big Brothers Big Sisters has been in Flagstaff for over 43 years and is a well-established and well-respected organization. The organization helps children realize their potential and build their future. We nurture children and strengthen the community.

By providing a system of ongoing evaluation and support, Big Brothers Big Sisters is proven to help families. The one-to-one matches that Big Brothers Big Sisters makes improve the odds that Littles will perform better in school, avoid violence and illegal activities, and have stronger relationships with their parents and others. Right here in northern Arizona, Big Brothers Big Sisters of Flagstaff serves nearly 700 children and volunteers annually.

A 2009 study conducted by Harris Interactive on behalf of Big Brothers Big Sisters of America found that former Littles, now adults, who were matched for at least one year report that having a Big Brother or Big Sister played an integral role in who they are today by positively influencing their self-confidence, providing stability, changing their perspective on life and pushing them to set higher goals.

Ninety percent of former Littles surveyed agree that their Big provided stability when they needed it. Eighty-one percent of former Littles agree that their Big gave them hope. Sixty-seven percent of former Littles surveyed agree that their Big played a role in their decision to attend college.

More information for anyone interested in joining Big Brothers Big Sisters available by calling (928) 774-0649.

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