Volunteer Experience as a BIG SISTER has many rewards
Emily Fisher has a smile as large as the state she is from-Texas! A first year Med-Peds intern, she comes from a family who believes in providing for others; her dad is a psychiatrist and Mom provides counseling to Job Corps students. So it seems natural that Emily volunteered to join Big Brothers Big Sisters of Metro Milwaukee.
For over 35 years, the program has matched adult volunteers with young people ages 6-18 to provide constructive relationships that have a positive effect on the lives of children. Their vision states “all children achieve success in life.” There is measurable proof that participation has an impact on school performance and social skills of “Littles.”
Emily first learned about the program from her medical school roommate, Margaret, who was a Big Sister for over six years. When Hurricane Ike ravaged Galveston, Margaret and her entire family assisted her “little” sister by providing shelter for the family during the crisis.
The process of becoming a volunteer in the program is very comprehensive. A family enrolls a child (the child has to want to participate) and then both the “Big” and “Little” including their family are extensively interviewed to be certain they are paired based on personality and common interests. Because of the length of her residency – four years – Emily felt she could have an enduring relationship with her match.
Her “Little” sister, Vanessa*, is 12 years old and they are just getting to know each other. “She is very child-like at times, then shows the spirit of a teenager,” Emily says. The organization suggests planning low- or no-cost activities to put importance on building the relationship and not on spending money. According to Emily, “It is not necessarily what you do but how you do it that makes things fun.” Emphasis is placed on five key areas entitled Project REACH to provide a well-rounded experience– Recreation, Education & Careers, Arts & Culture, Civic Engagement and Health & Fitness.
Emily spends time with Vanessa every week, sometimes just sitting together while Vanessa completes her homework (“she doesn’t need help”). She also talks to Vanessa’s mom and updates her on anything that came to light during their time together. Emily has faced frustration at times and has reached out to her parents, whom she says enjoy their role as “big parents.”
Asked if she would recommend the program to others, Emily pauses thoughtfully. “Yes, but you have to want it.” She asserts that these children need a strong role model and many come from environments where they have felt abandoned. “You have to be willing to commit time.” Her final comment solidifies how she feels about her role as a Big Sister – the best part is “having a relationship in and of itself.”
For more information on volunteer opportunities please see the following website: http://www.bbbsmilwaukee.org
Article written by Kathy A. Rafel, Medical Education Coordinator