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Big Brothers Big Sisters gears up for new school year

T-R PHOTO BY SARA JORDAN-HEINTZ
Diana Espinoza, 15, has been matched with her mentor Cindy Staron for nearly a decade, in the community-based program. The pair enjoy baking, gardening, playing games and going to movies.

Making a difference in the life of a child is the mission of Heart of Iowa Big Brothers Big Sisters, 31 S. First St. Executive Director Lynne Carroll said the bonds formed between mentors “bigs” and their kids “littles” can have a life-long positive impact.

Diana Espinoza, 15, has been matched with her mentor Cindy Staron for nearly a decade in the community-based program.

“I started because my kids had all graduated and they were out of the home. I was missing that connection,” Staron said. “I’m a retired teacher.”

The pair enjoy baking, gardening, playing games and going to movies. They describe themselves as “foodies,” enjoying the various cuisine Marshalltown has to offer. Diana said it’s enjoyable trying activities they otherwise wouldn’t do on their own.

“She’s an avid reader because her mother is a good reader too, and she’s encouraged me to read, so in the summers we read a book together. We just read ‘The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants,'” Staron said.

T-R PHOTO BY SARA JORDAN-HEINTZ
Jackie Barnes, left, is the school-based coordinator for West Marshall, and has been a big sister to Oliviana Bader, right, for three years. Here, they enjoy the annual BBBS back to school breakfast with Shannon Johnson, BBBS match support specialist.

Diana’s mother Melissa Espinoza, said she’s grateful for the connection.

“It’s nice for her to have someone different to talk to. It’s another outlet and opportunity to have someone to do stuff with and learn new things that she wouldn’t get to do,” Espinoza said. “It helps me to have a little bit of support. I appreciate it.”

Staron said when she first signed up to be a mentor, she worried about the time commitment.

“I initially thought it would be hard to meet once a week, but it has been okay. It’s enriching to both of us. I struggle when we can’t get together,” she said. “She has a lot of school activities so we just try to find the time, like using teacher in-service days.”

Jackie Barnes is the school-based coordinator for West Marshall, and has been a big sister to Oliviana Bader, 9, for three years. The two meet during Oliviana’s lunch and recess times.

“I have three kids and we’re super busy on the weekends so doing the school-based, I can do this during the week, because I stay at home,” Barnes said. “I like to bring in crafts.”

Shannon Johnson, BBBS match support specialist, checks in with bigs and littles to see how they are enjoying their time together. Angie Kuehner serves as the BBBS community-based coordinator and is also a big.

Currently, about 80 youth are enrolled in the school- and community-based programs in Marshalltown.

“We always need mentors. We probably have 25 on our waiting list,” Kuehner said. “We always need male mentors. Our list of boys waiting for a match is probably 20.”

For Barnes, it’s about being committed to making a difference in a young person’s life.

“It’s a lot of fun and it’s not a lot of time commitment. You can find time to develop a relationship and help a child,” she said. “Everybody has time; it’s just whether you make time or not, and I’ve chosen to make that time.”

To become a school-based mentor, applicants must be 16 years old or older, and 18 or older for the community-based program. Those interested undergo a background check and must provide references. The Grinnell school-based program is for youth age 6 to seventh grade. The West Marshall school-based program is for youth age 6 to high school. For more information, contact BBBS at 641-753-6370 or heartofiowamentoring@gmail.com.