Big Brothers, Big Sisters celebrates 50 years mentoring local kids
Sometimes one-on-one time with a mentor makes all of the difference in a child’s life, and Heart of Iowa Big Brothers, Big Sisters (BBBS) has been showcasing how impactful it can be for 50 years.
Lynne Carroll, the director of the local chapter of the BBBS, says the nonprofit program is dedicated to matching a volunteer — a big — to a child — a little — who is in need of a positive role model. These bigs are meant to walk through life with their littles and hopefully have some fun in the process. The help and advice from these volunteers can influence the littles for years to come.
“All of our volunteers throughout the past 50 years have planted seeds in kids that have blossomed in a lot of different ways. I think often our mentors don’t quite know if they’ve had any influence, and (the volunteer) may hear, or we may hear later how that impacted the child and what they made for decisions because of the influence of that mentor,” Carroll said.
According to Carroll, Lew Miller originally founded Big Brothers in 1972 because he recognized a need for a mentorship program to guide local boys through life in the Marshalltown area, so he and a few friends banded together to launch the program. From there, it expanded, and in 1975, after Big Sisters was founded, the two programs merged into BBBS.
BBBS continued to grow throughout the years, relying mainly on volunteers before a director was eventually hired. Carroll is currently entering her 11th year as the director and her 15th year with the program. She was previously the match support specialist, a position dedicated to matching compatible bigs and littles.
Carroll credits the unending community support from the people of Marshalltown for the longevity of BBBS.
“I would say that as an agency itself, we have stood the test of time because the community has been supportive of what it is that happens here and seen the value of what mentoring really does for kids in our community,” Carroll said.
The volunteers of BBBS are split into two categories — school-based and community-based volunteers. School-based volunteers visit the child they are mentoring at school and have to be a minimum of 16 years old, whereas community-based mentors meet them outside of school and must be at least 18 years old. Once they’ve been paired up, there are a wealth of activities the bigs and their littles can complete together.
“They can bake, they can bike ride, or they can go to movies or sporting events, whatever it is. But probably the best advice we give a community-based match is, ‘What do you already have that you do that you can just include a child in?'” Carroll said. “Sometimes, just sitting down and eating a meal together is a real treat for a child because they have that focused one-to-one attention.”
Colin Schmit is a high school senior and a school-based big, and he visits his little, Madden, a fifth grader at Lenihan Intermediate School. Schmit has been extremely pleased with his experiences in the program so far.
“It’s been awesome. (Madden) loves sports just like I do and you can tell that he’s really excited, and it changes his whole day to have someone take time out of their day to go hang out with him. So, it’s been great so far,” Schmit said.
Schmit plays basketball with Madden at Lenihan, but he also helps him with any problems he has on his math homework. Schmit would encourage everyone to do it, and he has actively talked to his friend group about participating.
Two of BBBS’s community-based volunteers, Deb and Ken Harrelson, feel like they’re reaping just as many benefits from the program as their little, a 13-year-old named Connor who they’ve known for three years. After their kids were all moved out of the house, there was a space in their hearts they were looking to fill, and Deb thought there was no better way to do it than by giving back to the community.
“I know there’s kids out there who don’t have moms and dads, and I just thought we could find somebody to go and roller skate with or do whatever they like to do. So that’s what led to us doing (the program),” Deb said. “It’s been pretty rewarding.”
After a half century, Carroll says the agency’s future is bright. The long term goals remain the same: to continue building relationships in the community and keep making a difference in the lives of local children.
“We are about building relationships here and not just by pulling our bigs and littles together. It’s about building relationships in everything we do throughout this community,” Carroll said. “Relationships really connect us to being a community that cares. You know that saying, ‘It takes a village?’The Marshalltown village has been wonderful over 50 years, but we are not done.”
To celebrate the 50-year milestone, the bigs and littles of BBBS will be attending a Marshalltown High School basketball game on Jan. 21, where they will be introduced and recognized for being a part of the program. Carroll says this is great for visibility and ensuring the community knows BBBS is there to support local kids.
To volunteer at BBBS, fill out an online application at HeartofIowaBigs.org, or pick up a paper copy at their office located at 31 S. First St. BBBS requires three references and a background check for all volunteers.
Contact Susanna Meyer at 641-753-6611 or