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Several Mitchell Cancer Institute employees gained the title of “Big Sister” over the past few months. They earned this special title through Big Brothers Big Sisters of South Alabama, which is part of the nation’s largest donor and volunteer-supported mentoring network.
Through BBBS, meaningful and monitored matches are created between adult volunteers, known as “Bigs” and children, known as “Littles.” The children range in age from 6 to 18 and live in more than 300 communities across the nation.
Alyssa Fernandez, a research assistant in cancer control and prevention at MCI, is a new Big Sister in the program . After the first of the year, she began meeting with her Little Sister, TyNesha, a student at Holloway Elementary School on Stanton Road in Mobile.
“I have always been interested in working with children, and I hope to work in pediatric oncology research one day,” Fernandez said. “I think it’s important for kids to know they have someone on their side – someone interested in guiding them as they grow up and learn to be productive. It’s also nice for the mentors to be able to let go of being an ‘adult’ sometimes, have some fun, and meet the student on their level.”
The BBBS program requires a 12-month commitment from volunteers. It also conducts a thorough background check on the adults, identifies personality traits and requires references to ensure compatibility. In addition, a review process guarantees a successful connection and a successful impact on the lives of children in the program.
During the first year, Bigs meet their Littles at a school to get to know each other in a familiar setting. After the first year, the pair can meet at other locations such as a park, beach or bowling alley.
MCI employee Pam Horner is another new Big Sister. She is mentoring Ty’Kira, a 9-year-old in the 4th grade. They bonded right away.
“Her dream is to become a lawyer. In Ty’Kira’s pre-interview with the BBBS match specialist, she indicated she wanted to improve her skills in reading and math,” said Horner, a research compliance and contract processing specialist. “At our meetings, we spend time reading together aloud. It has been very rewarding to me, as I am given the chance to help her achieve her goals.”
Even though it was never her favorite subject, Horner assists Ty’Kira with her math worksheets. She also incorporates vocabulary lessons throughout their reading.
“If she does not understand a word, I provide the explanation. If I can’t explain, we are both given the task to look up definitions and report the meaning at the next meeting,” Horner said. “Our first word was ‘bandit.’ I was so impressed that she actually looked up the definition and was ready to provide the meaning at the next meeting.”
MCI Director Dr. Michael Finan said he encourages employees at MCI to get involved in BBBS. He began as a mentor last year after meeting a fellow volunteer.
"The data supporting the outcomes of the program is incredibly powerful, and I was convinced that this program is making a difference in the lives of our youth,” he said. “I have had a rewarding experience as a Big Brother, and I would encourage anyone who is able to volunteer to go ahead and dive in. It is fun and rewarding.”
Aimee Risser, CEO of BBBS of South Alabama, praised Finan for his willingness to join the program and extend the opportunity to the team at MCI.
“The high value they place on time, relationships and evidence-based practices make them not only excellent at what they do every day, but also a perfect partner in creating social change through our shared value of mentoring,” Risser said.
Debra Armistead, a faculty records specialist at MCI, said she felt a strong connection with her Little Sister, Ra’Nesha, after meeting with her only three times.
“She is a very sweet, bubbly little girl, and she likes to talk, play games and draw,” Armistead said. “She likes to draw pictures for me and always writes on the picture that I am her Big Sister and she is my Little Sister and we love each other.”
Armistead is eager to provide some special attention to her Little Sister, who is a middle child in a large family. She said she hopes the relationship will continue to grow as they learn more about each other.
For more information about becoming a mentor or a Corporate Big Partner, contact BBBS of South Alabama at 251-344-0536.
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