Big Brothers Big Sisters making impact in Comal County

by Crystal Gottfried, Staff Writer

Big Brothers Big Sisters began in 1904 when Ernest Coulter, a court clerk in New York City wanted to help mentor the children who were caught up in the juvenile court system.

Today, Big Brothers Big Sisters of Comal and Guadalupe Counties serves primarily as a preventive program to help at-risk children avoid problems and to contribute to their brighter future through a one-to-one mentoring relationship.

Program Director Shannon Dixon runs a one-person branch of the Big Brothers Big Sisters of South Texas from her office in The Scooter Store in New Braunfels.

"It's an awesome program," Dixon said. "It's fun and it brings a little magic to a child's life."

Dixon already has volunteers in the Canyon Lake community who are ready, willing and able to start serving as mentors for families and their children.

There is a screening process for volunteers before they are ready to be matched to a child or family ­ a face-to-face interview, a national background check, and training in socialization, communication and child development.

Matches between Big Brothers and Little Brothers, and Big Sisters and their Little Brothers or Little Sisters depend on the "Big's" interests and the needs and interests of the child.

"It's not about spending money on 'Littles,'" said Dixon. "It's more about serving the needs of children between the ages of six and 14 who could use someone outside of their own family to spend time with, to go hiking or fishing with, or to just talk with."

Volunteers in the program are asked to spend a few hours a week, three to four times a month on activities of their choosing to give their time and friendship to their little brothers or sisters.

Since this service is provided to children of various socio-economic levels, there are numerous opportunities for matches between Bigs and Littles throughout the community; through church youth groups, schools, and young adult groups.

Dixon's role is to screen volunteers and families to help match the mentor with the child, and to support the mentoring process throughout the first year through phone calls, and visits with both Bigs and Littles.

"I just want people to know that I'm here and that we have volunteers who are still waiting to have a Little Brother or Sister to care about," she said.

Currently, Dixon oversees more than 25 active matches in New Braunfels, Seguin, Bulverde, San Marcos, Schertz and San Antonio, and she follows through on every match.

"We celebrate when a match goes on for a year," said Dixon. "Children may stay in the program until they are 18, and the program can be credited with incredible success stories from grown-up Little Brothers and Sisters who become Big Brothers and Sisters mentoring little ones."

Statistically, the Big Brothers Big Sisters program boasts a significant impact on youth with research figures that show little brothers and sisters are less likely to initiate illegal drug use, begin using alcohol, skip school or skip a class, and who are more confident in their school performance because they have a Big Brother or Sister who cares.

The Big Brothers Big Sisters program just celebrated 100 years of helping children reach their full potential through professionally supported one-to-one mentoring relationships.

If you would like to help mentor a child, or if you have a child who could use some individual attention from a Big Brother or Sister, contact Dixon at (210) 316-2596, or by e-mail at sdixon@bigmentor.org.

"I can come to meet with families in the evening or on the weekend," she said. "Our vision is for every child who wants or needs a Big Brother or Sister to have one."


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