Henry Adams once said, “A teacher affects eternity: he can never tell where his influence stops.” This adage applies to Dan Kennedy, a ninth grade English teacher at the Clearfield Area High School.
Outside of his classroom, Kennedy has volunteered at Big Brothers Big Sisters of Clearfield County for approximately 10 years. His wife, Julie coordinates the program and encouraged his involvement after speaking to him about a particular need for big brothers.
“I have three girls (at home) and thought it would be neat and exciting to have a little brother around,” he said. “I enjoy kids. I don’t think she had to twist my arm too hard.”
Kennedy has been paired with his current match, Robby since July 20, 2008. Together, they frequent “superhero movies” and stay in to cheer enthusiastically for the Pittsburgh Steelers. But they’ve also enjoyed canoe trips and basketball games.
Robby has also been Kennedy’s handyman, helping him with odds and ends around the house. Once warmer weather greets them this spring and summer, they’ll be planning bike rides since Robby’s bicycle has been “fixed up.”
According to the pair, they always look forward to agency outings, which include trips to Altoona Curve games and to Lakemont Park and the Island Water Park. Program Supervisor Lynda Saggese recalled one fond moment with Robby.
“We were at the Haunted Hayride at Bilger’s Rocks. It was the first time that I’d heard Robby giggle. He just loved it,” she said. Adorn with a great big smile from ear-to-ear, he described the “chainsaw guy” chasing after them.
Robby isn’t the only one benefiting from the pair’s companionship though. Kennedy admitted he sometimes feels that he gains more from the mentoring experience than his “little.”
“The impact, for me as an adult, has been profound. I’m lucky to have him around. We’ve shared some good times even though we’re not doing big things,” Kennedy said. “Mentoring youth is both necessary and important. I feel like I’m making a difference in his life. It feels great.”
Youth who spend time regularly with a mentor are less involved with drugs and alcohol, perform better in school and have better relationships with their parents and peers, according to a national study conducted by the Philadelphia-based Public/Private Ventures (P/PV).
In fact, researchers found that youth matched to Big Brothers and Big Sisters are 46 percent less likely to start using drugs and 27 percent less likely to start drinking. They are 33 percent less likely to hit someone, are 52 percent less likely to skip a day of school and 37 percent less likely to skip a class.
These youth, according to the researchers, are also more trusting of their parents and guardians. At the same time, they’re less likely to lie to them and feel more supported and less criticized by their peers and friends.
Anyone interested in volunteering completes a very simple process. All volunteers must successfully complete a pre-interview and pre-enrollment questionnaire form. They’re interviewed in-person by the Big Brothers Big Sisters staff, Saggese said.
She said they must complete a thorough screening process that includes the Pennsylvania State Police Criminal Record Check, FBI Criminal Record Check and a Department of Motor Vehicles Record Check. All related costs are covered by the program.
According to Kennedy and Saggese, the program provides two monthly activities for volunteers and their matches at no cost to them. They encourage volunteers to spend time with their little brother or sister at least twice monthly but encourage three times.
“It doesn’t take a whole lot of time or money. It just requires a little investment in wanting to be there for your little,” Kennedy said. Saggese said typical matches have lasted as long as two-and-a-half years and spark life-long friendships.
Saggese said the program serves youth who are ages seven through 17 years old and who live in any community within Clearfield County. She said there’s a greater need for big brothers, as single mothers are looking for male role models for their sons.
In matching volunteers with a little brother or sister, the program’s staff considers the child’s personality, interests, location and parent and volunteer preferences. The final decision always requires parent approval, Saggese said.
After being matched, the volunteer and parent determine the best times for them to get together. An outing’s length depends on the activity as well as the age of the child. The matches can not only attend agency activities each month, but may also choose other independent activities.
Saggese said the families, volunteers and their staff maintain close relationships to ensure each child is safe, happy and satisfied with their match. She said each plays an important role in the match relationship, and it’s discussed so that everyone knows their role.
“We’re always looking to serve more children. We want to start something big and double our program this year,” Saggese said. She added that any parent interested in placing their child in the program should contact Big Brothers Big Sisters.
For more information about the program or volunteering, please contact 814-765-2687 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Visit the Big Brothers Big Sisters program online.
Information nights for volunteers have been scheduled for 6:30 p.m. Feb. 23, March 8 and March 22 at the
Children’s Aid Society. In addition, they’ll be held at 6:30 p.m. Feb. 16, March 1 and March 29 at Martins Grocery in DuBois.
Big Brothers Big Sisters of Clearfield County, a program falling under the umbrella of the Children’s Aid Society, has been a member of Big Brothers Big Sisters of America since 1991 and has operated a mentoring program since 1986.
However, Big Brothers Big Sisters has been helping change children’s perspectives and giving them the opportunity to reach their potential for more than a century, according to the Big Brothers Big Sisters of America web site.
In 1904, a young New York City court clerk named Ernest Coulter was seeing more and more boys come through his courtroom. He recognized that caring adults could help many of these children stay out of trouble, and he set out to find volunteers. That marked the beginning of the Big Brothers movement.
At around the same time, the members of a group called Ladies of Charity were befriending girls who had come through the New York Children’s Court. That group would later become the Catholic Big Sisters.
Both groups continued to work independently until 1977, when the Big Brothers Association and Big Sisters International joined forces and became Big Brothers Big Sisters of America.
More than 100 years later, Big Brothers Big Sisters remains true to its founders’ vision of bringing caring role models into the lives of children. And, today, Big Brothers Big Sisters currently operates in all 50 states and in 12 countries around the world.