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Big Brothers Big Sisters Resource Board under formation

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By Carol A. Clark

Community members turned out to hear what it takes to serve on the local board of the national youth mentoring organization, Big Brothers Big Sisters. During a lunchtime presentation Wednesday at the Hilltop House Hotel, nearly 20 people learned about the history, local status and board duties. The board positions consist of two-year terms with an option to renew. Between seven and 21 board members are being sought. Five people have already signed on.Board responsibilities include overseeing the program’s integrity, acting as a resource for local and agency staff, and strategically planning for effectiveness and growth, among other duties.Big Brothers Big Sisters helps boys and girls achieve their potential through positive adult relationships. A volunteer needs no special skills to be a Big Brother or Big Sister, said Chief Executive Officer Andrea Fisher Maril. He or she needs only to be interested in sharing special moments with a child. Just by sharing experiences, celebrating accomplishments and listening to a child’s concerns, a Big Brother or Big Sister can make a difference to a child, she said. Fisher Maril spoke of her interactions with a teenage girl and how much it meant to her when the girl searched for her three years later to express how that interaction changed her life for the better. In describing her association with Big Brothers Big Sisters, Fisher Maril said, “This isn’t just a job for me; this is a passion. I am determined to change children’s lives in New Mexico.”She told the group the result of matching children with adults is life-changing. Many people think the mentoring program isn’t necessary in a community like Los Alamos, she said, adding that in a local survey, some children in Los Alamos said they really didn’t have an adult they could use as a sounding board. Sometimes it’s a matter of both parents spending so much time working to make ends meet, Fisher Maril said. With pending job layoffs at Los Alamos National Laboratory, she said some children might not be able to talk with their parents during this stressful time because their parents are so worried about their jobs.Big Brothers Big Sisters deliberately fosters one-on-one relationships, which Fisher Maril said help children open up. Children in the program are identified mainly through the school system. Some 95 percent are from single-parent families, about 90 percent are low-income and 83 percent are minorities.A recent study conducted by Public/Private Ventures examined the impact of Big Brothers Big Sisters on youth and found that when compared to their peers, Little Brothers and Little Sisters who met with their Big Brothers or Sisters for at least one year were• 46 percent less likely to start using drugs;• 27 percent less likely to start drinking;• 33 percent less likely to act violently; and• 52 percent less likely to skip a day of school.The children also earned higher grades.Almost across the board these outcomes are higher for minority youth, according to the survey, which states minority boys are 67 percent less likely to start using drugs and minority girls are 72 percent less likely.Los Alamos - Rio Arriba Community Coordinator Nikki Harnish told the group that Big Brothers Big Sisters of Northern New Mexico is open to children ages 6-18. The only requirement is that children want to be in the program and that a parent grants permission.The organization holds three major fundraisers each year. Their popular Bowl for Kids’ Sake has been Big Brothers Big Sisters’ largest annual fundraiser since the early 1980s. Last year, the event raised some $170,000, Fisher Maril said. That money goes directly towards matching children with a Big Brother, Big Sister or Big Couple. Fisher Maril thanked Los Alamos National Bank for their history of being “a great sponsor.”Big Brothers Big Sisters is currently campaigning to double the number of youth who are matched with an adult mentor. There are already more than 800 children matched in the northern New Mexico area. Anyone interested in participating in the program or learning more can access www.BBBSNorthernNM.org or call 883-8360.