Friendships changing lives.
That message is evident in the Big Brothers Big Sisters of Utah program.
Big Brothers Big Sisters is a volunteer organization where "Littles" -- children -- are paired up with "Bigs," or the volunteers. Children ranging from 6 to 18 years old are matched with older teenagers or adults and a match is formed.
For junior Jenna Hansen, her favorite part of being a Big is "talking to my Little and getting to know her."
Hansen, a Northridge High School student, volunteers at Lincoln Elementary in Layton as part of the school-based program.
"I thought it would be a good opportunity for service hours and I really like helping kids," said Hansen, who meets with a Little one day each week.
The school-based program is school-supervised, meaning the Big will visit the child at his or her school and remain on campus to do activities such as read, play games, or work on craft projects. The pair will usually meet once every week for about an hour.
A community program offers more options. The Big is able to visit their Little at the child's home and take them to activities, such as the park or the library. However, for that to happen, the Big must be at least 18 years old.
Big Brothers Big Sisters began more than 100 years ago in New York, when a Catholic parish decided some boys needed guidance and started a program for boys, calling it "Big Brothers." In 1978, a Big Brothers program was formed in Salt Lake City and in the early '80s, the program was changed to include girls as well.
To participate, children must be signed up by their parents. The agency contacts the child's family and begins to get to know them. Volunteers wanting to be Bigs are interviewed and a match is made based on similar interests and goals.
Big Brothers Big Sisters encourages natural friendships.
"The 'one on one' aspect of the program is the key to its success," says Linda Schott, marketing and public relations coordinator in Murray. "When a Little is receiving one-on-one attention from someone who has a bigger, more impressive stature, it definitely makes a difference. Everyone thrives when they know they have a person who genuinely cares about them."
An example of this relationship is Renatta Rasmussen and her Little Amy. Rasmussen and Amy (last names of the children are protected) live in Layton and have been matched together since 2009 in the community-based program.
Rasmussen says she joined "because my husband and I could not have children, I wanted to be a mentor, and thought this would be fun."
The two do activities that are based on common interests, such as photography and sewing classes, going to the movies and shopping.
"We sewed a dress together," said Amy, 16, "we also eat out, go to the movies and just talk."
Amy got involved in the program when her mother found out about it through the media. Her two younger brothers are in it as well.
"I enjoy having a role model -- someone to talk to. I do have older siblings, but they are gone a lot, so it's nice to get out of the house and talk to someone," said Amy, who meets a couple of times each month with Rasmussen.
Anne Graff, a teen volunteering as a Big at Lincoln Elementary, said, "My favorite part is when I come and my Little is so excited to see me."
Although a misconception is children in the program are "trouble children," that is far from the truth. Schott says, "There are children on either end of the spectrum." For the most part, she said all the kids involved are hard-working students and amazing people who just want another friend in their life, or a mentor that they can look up and talk to.
Big Brothers Big Sisters benefits both the Bigs as well as the Littles. In a national 2009 report, parents said their children -- who were Littles -- had an improvement in self-confidence of 94 percent. Children with a Big Brother or Big Sister were 46 percent less likely to begin using illegal drugs. And the Littles had a 58 percent improvement in their school work when they had a relationship with their Big.
The agency provides ideas for low-cost or free activities to the volunteers and children and also puts together a summer picnic and winter party for volunteers and kids to mingle with other matches.
As a Big, you may develop a relationship that can last a lifetime with someone in need. You get to visit with the child every month (or more) and help them out and talk to them.
"It is a good program because kids have someone they can look up to, talk to and have a good time with and not worry about anything," Hansen said.
Graff, a junior at Northridge High, agrees, saying, "It's really great, and I would hope that they don't ever have trouble finding people who want to be a Big Brother or Big Sister. It's only one hour a week; anyone can do it."
Lynette Randall is a junior at Clearfield High School and a volunteer for Big Brothers Big Sisters. She loves river rafting, rock climbing, wave running and reading. E-mail her at firstname.lastname@example.org.