STEUBENVILLE - Big Brothers Big Sisters of Jefferson County has been around locally since June 2006, but Phyllis Riccadonna, its fundraising and public relations coordinator, likes to think 2012 is a battery recharging year for the one-to-one mentoring relationship program.
"I would like to think that Big Brothers Big Sisters of Jefferson County is renewing a relationship with the area, and we have bigger goals," Riccadonna said.
"And the most meaningful goal of all is to make sure that all the children waiting for a big brother and big sister get a volunteer," she said, anticipating that a story on the program will generate calls to the BBBS office in suite 10 of the Gallery building at 2700 Sunset Blvd., where the number is (740) 264-3306. Office hours are 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday and Friday.
Phyllis Riccadonna, right, assumed public relations and fundraising duties with Big Brothers Big Sisters of Jefferson County in February, and Jene Watkins is the program’s service delivery coordinator.
But, unfortunately, she adds, the calls from parents or guardians wanting their child to be paired with a mentor will outnumber the inquiries from potential "bigs."
"That's the hardest part of the program - finding the 'bigs,'" said Riccadonna, who in February assumed PR and fundraising duties with the organization while retired educator-administrator Jene Watkins is acting as its service delivery coordinator, a role involving recruiting bigs and facilitating matches.
The two talked recently about the program's status and needs while promoting an upcoming key fundraiser on June 30, which is called Bowl for Kids' Sake. It will be held from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. at Toronto Bowling Lanes at 1119 N. Fifth St., Toronto.
Sponsors and participants are being sought with a variety of sponsorship levels available. There is a $10-per-person fee for a five-person bowling team. Anyone interested can contact the BBBS of Jefferson County office.
The program has 15 matches in place but the goal by year's end is to have double that, if not more.
BBBS helps children ages 7-17 and matches "littles" and "bigs" taking into consideration, for example, interests and personalities. Males are paired with boys, women with girls.
"The 'bigs' have to commit for one year, and what they're required to do is have visits with the child three times a month at least for 10 hours for the month," Riccadonna said. A prospective volunteer provides three references, receives training and support and undergoes a background check before a match is made.
The program's motto is "Little Moments. Big Magic."
Its promotional material notes: "In our lives, each of us was touched by someone other than our parents who broadened our horizons and brought a little magic into our lives. By becoming a Big Brother or Big Sister, you can do the same for a child. And you will both be forever changed by the experience."
Being a "big" involves a commitment of time, not necessarily money, although volunteers are at liberty to take their "littles" out to eat or to events.
But just talking, going to a park, taking a walk, enjoying a hobby together or helping with homework all constitute an investment of time that can yield a positive return, according to Riccadonna and Watkins, both of whom are available to talk to groups, organizations and churches about the program that operates on donations and the upcoming fundraiser in addition to being a member agency of the United Way of Jefferson County.
"Most of the children are at-risk children who will never ever be introduced to the things that a volunteer can introduce them to," Riccadonna said. "Some of them are children of misfortune," Riccadonna said. That includes being "impoverished."
"When you're poor you can't go anywhere or do anything," Riccadonna said. "A mentor can take them some places they'll never get to go, a restaurant they've never been to, some simple little thing that so many take for granted," she said.
Often a child can't participate in an after-school program for lack of transportation. "A mentor can do that, be part of that activity, something to enhance their life," Riccadonna said.
Children get enrolled in the program because a parent has initiated the process and "is enlisting our help," she said.
"They know their children will be introduced to a stranger, and they're willing to do that because they know their child needs this help," Riccadonna said.
Watkins sees BBBS as a mentoring program to supplement or complement other youth programs in place such as Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts, and that it's important to have it available to communities in Jefferson County now and in the future.
Volunteers are needed to step up to the plate to make a difference, according to Watkins, who recalled a positive mentoring influence from his childhood in Smithfield was through a man named Bill Fisher, a milk truck driver who offered his time to work with kids through the Methodist church. He took "a busload of kids" to Gettysburg and Washington, D.C., he said.
"He gave time at the Methodist church, that's where we met, and for kids who grew up back in the late '40s early '50s, Bill Fisher was the savior of those kids," Watkins said.
"He was a tremendous giver (of time), and he made a heck of a difference," Watkins said.
Dave Quattrochi, Edison Local Schools superintendent, serves as one of the organization's advisory board members but also is in the process of becoming a "big" himself along with his wife, Tina.
"Our kids are very excited about us becoming a 'big' family," Tina said of their blended family of three children ages 10, 11 and 13. The Quattrochis will mentor two "littles," a brother and a sister from a single parent household.
"We do everything together as a family with our children so we just thought it'd be a good idea, that we could do this together," said Tina, who noted adding two more children to the mix is an easy thing to do, as they're already accustomed to having their children's friends join in their group activities anyway.
In his role as a superintendent, Dave Quattrochi said he sees that "there's definitely a need for students or children needing to be mentored" and looks forward to the chance to help make a difference through the program.
And he also relishes the opportunity to be a "mentor-slash-teacher," as being an educator in contact with students was his first love before his move to the administrative side of education.
Going out to eat, visiting the library or a park or fishing are activities the Quattrochis envision will be ways they will spend time with their "littles."
Tina Quattroachi said she thinks "littles" can benefit from different experiences and so can their own children.
"I want our kids to get a learning experience from this, too, to see people from different backgrounds," Tina said.
They also hope that their willingness to find time to volunteer might inspire any potential "bigs."
"It's our goal to recruit more volunteers because there are so many children out there, boys and girls who need role models, someone to look up to," Dave Quattrochi said.
In addition to Dave Quattrochi, other advisory board members are MaLinda Lewis, Sandi Rue, Marcy Ryan, Bob Sagrilla, Bryan Felmet, Alyssa Kerker and Mark Furda.
"Anybody interested in becoming a volunteer, a board member, a donor - we welcome everybody," Riccadonna said.
(Kiaski can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.)