Big Buddy program assists children in need

Over 100 Grant County children need someone they can call their buddy.  While their backgrounds are as individual as their personalities, they all long for one thing: someone to admire and trust.

The Big Buddy program, implemented by Grant County Social Services, pairs children who need a friend and role model with caring adults looking to make a difference.  Both boys and girls ages 5-17 are looking for buddies, but boys outnumber girls in the program due to fatherless homes.

The program seeks both individual volunteers and families who could incorporate their new buddy into their lives.  Social Services Specialist Brenda Shireman said that volunteering is easy and beneficial to all involved.

“College students make great buddies,” Shireman said.  “The most valuable thing is your time.  A volunteer does not have to spend a lot of money; the kids would be happy to just hang out.”

In addition to college students, families looking to help the community make great buddies and can give the child a glimpse into how a loving family works.  The children in the program rarely sit down to a family dinner at home, so the littlest things mean the world to them, Shireman said.

The children in this program can suffer from self-esteem issues, stemming from a lack of stability and adult interaction.  Shireman sees firsthand the benefits of the Big Buddy program.  The children do better in school, interact better with their peers and misbehave less, Shireman said.

“The primary reason the kids need a buddy is to show them a different way of life,” Shireman said.  “Their self-esteem goes up because someone cares about them.  They realize this person does not have to care, but they do.”

While both buddies are usually nervous at first, they often forge a bond that lasts as the child grows, Shireman said.

“At first it is like a false friendship,” Shireman said.  “We try to match personalities, and it is interesting to see how each friendship grows.

Little buddy Emma, age 10, said she looks forward to her time with big buddy Senior Media Specialist Christal Swigart.  Swigart and Emma were paired almost a year ago and now spend two or three days a week together, hanging out or attending campus events.  To Emma, spending time with Swigart means having fun and spending time with someone she can count on.

“Having a friend I get along with, that means a lot to me,” Emma said.  “It is about having a friend you can talk to and you can trust and just have fun with.”

Emma is not the only one who benefits from the buddy relationship.  Swigart said she enjoys her time with Emma as well.

“I love the fact that I am helping someone,” Swigart said.  “Plus, Emma thinks I’m pretty cool.  That makes me feel good.”

Volunteers looking to help must be at least 18 years of age and pass a criminal background check.  A home visit and interview help match the child’s personalities and interests with those of the volunteers.

For more information or to volunteer as a Big Buddy, call Grant County Social Services at 608-723-2136.