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End the Year with Cheer: Sharing the gift of mentorship

Published: Dec. 22, 2020 at 7:01 PM AKST
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ANCHORAGE, Alaska (KTUU) - According to Merriam Webster’s dictionary, a mentor is defined as a trusted counselor or guide. Taking on that responsibility can be daunting, but Big Brothers Big Sisters of Alaska makes it easy.

I started my journey with the volunteer organization five years ago in Rapid City, South Dakota. I overheard a coworker talking about the adventures she went on with her “little buddy” and the amazing change she saw in the confidence of that child. I had some extra time on my hands and was quickly matched with an 11-year-old girl who shared a lot of my same interests.

“What we do is we connect ‘Littles’ that are at risk with a volunteer and that volunteer spends one to one time with the Little. This can look very different for each match,” says Sarah Elliot, a match support specialist with Big Brothers Big Sisters of Alaska.

We hiked, spent time with my dog, worked on her homework and, her favorite, tried to locate the absolute best steak dinner in the entire town. When I made the transition to Anchorage to work for Alaska’s News Source, I was incredibly sad to leave my little and vowed to work to change the life of another child as I knew first hand the difference mentoring can make.

“We found that 100% of the youth that has been matched with us said they were doing better in school. I mean that is an incredible finding. Also, 98% of the youth say they are making better choices and that they feel more accepted by adults,” says Elliot.

The organization interviews candidates for mentors and mentees and pairs them up based on shared goals and interests. Here in Anchorage, my new little was a 10-year-old named Olivia Wise.

Throughout our time together we’ve gone on exciting adventures from glacier hikes to biking along the Coastal Trail. Olivia’s favorite activity is pretty clear: “I love it when we go to your house to bake cookies,” she says. We are still trying to find the perfect chocolate macaroon recipe.

When our news director challenged our station to end the year with cheer, I knew Olivia and her family could stand an extra smile. Her family has been impacted by the pandemic and didn’t know if they would be able to celebrate Christmas. I thought giving them each a gift specified to their needs would be a great way to pass along a little cheer.

“It means a lot because of this year. With the kids doing online school, I’ve kind of like dropped my whole life just to focus on school so it gives us an opportunity and something we would not have been able to get otherwise. So, it’s a beautiful experience,” says Stephanie Wise, Olivia’s mom.

But it is not just the littles that have something to gain from a mentorship program.

“It’s not a chore; it’s just including a child in something that you were already going to do. We have volunteers that are new to Alaska and they want to enjoy all that Alaska has to offer and they are excited to have someone to tag along with them,” says Elliot.

If you want to enjoy time with someone that has a shared interest you can apply to be a “Big” here.

Right now, the organization is in need as children are waiting for their own special someone.

“We have 172 youth that are on the waitlist, that are waiting for a big,” says Elliot. “Unfortunately, a big chunk of that is Little brothers. Because three out of our ten volunteers are men.”

If you don’t have time to volunteer, Big Brother Big Sisters of Alaska also accepts monetary donations.

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