BIG AND LITTLE
They’re constants in each other’s lives, which has proven to become mutually beneficial for both of them.
Lora Isackson of Owatonna and her little, Diamond Bavardo, enjoy hanging out together through the Big Brothers Big Sisters program.
Isackson feels that the program is “amazing” and that it does really important work. She said that she had wanted to do it for a few years and saw it as a goal for herself to volunteer. She explained that the timing had to be right and that at first she was a little nervous yet hopeful that Diamond would respond well but that now they’re more than happy to hang out together whenever they can.
“We’re both twins” Isackson exclaims, clarifying that both her and Diamond belong to sets of fraternal twins, one of the many similarities they’ve found between each other. She says that she would recommend volunteering in the program for anyone who’s interested, and feels that it’s a “cool way to make an impact” and that the result is very gratifying.
According to Isackson, it’s more of a friendship-type relationship rather than anything too formal. In addition, she said that she feels Diamond can count on her and vice versa.
Some of the activities they like to do together include biking, going to the movies, hanging out, and baking cookies. There are also a wide variety of events planned and orchestrated through the Big Brothers Big Sisters program, and both Lora and Diamond enjoy these as well.
Isackson jokes, “I think Diamond knows everyone there.” She said that it’s also fun for her to connect with other volunteers like her as well as the many people involved in the program.
Prior to her volunteer work at Big Brothers Big Sisters, Isackson had been a full-time teacher, as well as a substitute. She is still employed as a full-time substitute for the school district, and thinks that being a parent and a teacher has allowed her to see the need many kids have for the program. “It feels good to make a difference in a small way,” she said, adding it’s fun on top of everything else.
Isackson said that Diamond and her have met each other’s families, and get along well with them. She explains that “being a Big doesn’t have to cost you anything, you can choose to spend some money on activities or other things, but it’s not a requirement.”
Last week, her and Diamond both spent a little extra on each other, and exchanged gifts for the holiday season. They also made matching shirts with their favorite colors, purple and pink. Diamond says that she loves Christmas and that she enjoyed the event Big Brothers Big Sisters of Southern Minnesota put on for the season in partnership with the Elks Club.
Diamond, with a beaming smile, notes that “Lora’s really nice” and says that she also likes Lora’s husband and their family dog. Lora and Diamond have been paired up for over a year, and are still finding ways to have fun. Isackson says that she feels that she “gets a lot back from her Little” and hopes to continue with the program, saying “I want to be her Big as long as she wants me to.”
Isackson said that it took about a month, along with some minor steps, to get approved, but once the approval cleared that it was a quick process to get connected with Diamond. She explains that there are multiple ways to go about volunteering, including meeting with the kids during school hours, but that she wanted to be a “community Big,” meaning that they get to spend time together whenever they want. “We like to do our own thing,” she said.
Diamond’s father works full time, and appreciates the program as well as the time Lora spends with his daughter. Diamond says that her twin sister is also in the program, as are two of her other siblings. The program offers children from a wide range of backgrounds the ability to connect with an adult in a meaningful way. Once signed up, volunteers are asked to participate for at least a year, and from there decide if they wish to continue.
When she was ready to volunteer, Isackson says that she went online, but that you can also call or contact the Southern Minnesota chapter if that’s more convenient. She said that the people involved with the program are very nice and friendly, and that they are all there because “they really do care about providing kids with good mentorship.”
The program, Isackson said, is always in need of volunteers, especially males. She said that there’s different ways to do it, and that sometimes couples or families will act together as a Big for their assigned Little.
Big Brothers Big Sisters of America has become an important social program within the American fold. The program originally got its start in New York City over a hundred years ago, and now operates across the nation, as well as internationally, in countries such as Canada, Australia, and Russia. As an organization, it seeks to match kids of differing ages with volunteers who wish to give some time and friendship.
Big Brothers Big Sisters of Southern Minnesota provides Steele, Dodge, Rice, and Waseca counties with the opportunity to both volunteer, as well as become the junior part of a Big-Little relationship.
Andrew Carlson, marketing coordinator for Big Brothers Big Sisters, proudly notes that the Southern Minnesota chapter of the program was able to serve 529 children in 2016 and has already surpassed that number this year.
He says that the program is “pretty significant in our little corner” and feels that “mentorship is important for any child, even ones not facing adversity.” Carlson explains that one of the main goals of the program is to make mentor relationships successful for the kids.
According to Carlson, volunteers for the program have been increasing, and the Southern Minnesota subdivision of the organization saw a 12 percent growth from 2016 to 2017, which, in his words “is pretty big for a non-profit.” He says that a lot of the mentors eventually find themselves becoming a constant in the child’s life, something which can be mutually beneficial.
Carlson says that the first steps to volunteering shouldn’t be hard at all, and that the website has a volunteer page which can steer potential participants from there.
When discussing the program, he admits that “I think there’s a misconception that it takes a lot of time or is a big commitment, but it’s not.” He feels that “it only takes a little bit of time to change someone’s life.” Carlson is more than happy to explain that the program offers volunteers “meaningful work” that is also fun and enjoyable.
A Philadelphia based research organization, Public/Private Ventures, found in a study conducted between 1994 and 1995, that children enrolled in the program were 46 percent less likely to begin using illegal drugs, 27 percent less likely to begin using alcohol, 52 percent less likely to skip school, and are more confident in their school performance, as well as able to develop stronger relationships with their peers and families.
Volunteering at Big Brothers Big Sisters of Southern Minnesota is a great way for people who wish to give back to do so. Those who wish to volunteer should visit the website at: bbbsofsouthernmn.org.
Just as Isackson has for Little Diamond, it’s possible to make a difference in the lives of other children.