Big Brothers Big Sisters Looks To Expand North

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June 14, 2018
Shenandoah County May Start Program
For the Daily New-Record  6/14/18
HARRISONBURG — It’s obvious to Chris Ray he’s making an impact on his “little brother.”
“As soon as I walk in, I see him smile,” said Ray, an officer with the Harrisonburg Police Department who mentors a student at Waterman Elementary School through Big Brothers Big Sisters of Harrisonburg- Rockingham County.

Big Brothers Big Sisters is a nonprofit that matches children ages 5 to 18 with adult volunteers who serve as mentors, called “bigs.”

The local chapter serves about 500 “littles” in the city and county, and it is looking to expand into Shenandoah County.

Businesses and Shenandoah County Public Schools approached the Harrisonburg-Rockingham chapter about starting a satellite program, and July 1 has been set as a target date to evaluate fundraising and other progress made to establish a pilot program in Shenandoah County, according to a press release.

The pilot program will match up to 25 children with professionally guided mentors in the county, where there is a great need for the service, according to the organization.

“Nearly half of elementary- aged children in Shenandoah County face environmental risks such as: an absent or incarcerated parent, limited English proficiency, academic challenges, or living at or below the poverty level,” according to a press release.

HPD officer Ronnie Bowers, who mentors a student at Bluestone Elementary School, sees a difference in the behavior of his “little” and other students in the classroom during Bowers’ visits.
“It’s good to know it improves his interactions with other kids, too,” he said.

In addition to mentors, other people play an important role in the program, including parents, according to Lindsey Douglas, executive director of the local chapter.

On Tuesday, Big Brothers Big Sisters held a picnic at A Dream Come True Playground in Harrisonburg to say thank you to parents and connect with them.

“Families play a crucial role in the success of their children, so parents are an important partner with us,” Douglas said.

Because schools help refer children to the program, they play a key role as well.

Mark Johnston, superintendent of Shenandoah County Public Schools, is hopeful the pilot program is a success.

“Big Brothers Big Sisters is a well-established program with proven results of creating positive out comes for children,” he said in the press release. “We are excited to partner with them.”

BBBS needs $30,000 to implement the pilot program; however, it has already received $20,000 from Holtzman Oil & Propane, F& M Bank, the Regulus Group, and Shentel.

“The organization is excited to have two-thirds of the fundraising goal met by our sponsors,” Douglas said.

The money will go toward outreach and partner development, volunteer recruitment and screening, child and family enrollment, and staffing.

In addition to funding, the pilot program needs mentors who live or work in Shenandoah County, according to Douglas.

The pilot program will be evaluated after one year to determine if it will become permanent, Douglas said.

To find out more information or become involved in the BBBS Shenandoah County pilot program, visit

Elizabeth Williams (left), match support specialist for Big Brothers Big Sisters of Harrisonburg-Rockingham County, and volunteer Retha Baer (center) help Alia Esparza, 8, and her mother, Melissa, of Harrisonburg, with a temporary tattoo during the chapter’s family day Tuesday at A Dream Come True Playground.

Harrisonburg police officer Greg Deeds shows off his motorcycle to Layza Matos, 10, of Harrisonburg, during the Big Brothers Big Sisters of Harrisonburg-Rockingham County family day Tuesday at A Dream Come True Playground.

Jesus Borja, 19, and his brother, Josue, 7, of Harrisonburg get food at Tuesday’s picnic.