Mika Lynch, Prevention Specialist with the South Central Illinois chapter of Big Brothers / Big Sisters, said she was “amazed” at the number of student athletes who turned out Thursday, Oct. 20, to sign up to help youngsters.
Lynch and fellow Prevention Specialist Cindy Worthey began registering volunteers at 2 p.m. that day. By 2:20 p.m., 21 student athletes had signed up and many more were expected to register by the end of the registration and in the coming days.
By comparison, there are only about 25 Big Brothers / Big Sisters matches in Jefferson County, which includes Mt. Vernon, the largest city in the Rend Lake College district. Lynch, who handles volunteers in Jefferson and Marion counties, said on average she enrolls only about four new volunteers per month.
“This could more than double our program,” she said.
According to Worthey, the student athletes will be partnered in one-to-one relationships with “littles,” or youngsters between the ages of 5 and 12. For at least one year and at least one hour per week, the athletes will visit with the youngsters. The athletes will serve as positive role models and can participate in any number of activities with the kids, from visiting a library or getting an ice cream cone to washing a car or going to an athletic event.
“Not only do the volunteers become interested in the lives of the kids, but the kids also become interested in the volunteers. The fact that these are college athletes makes a big difference. The parents of many of the children we serve never went to college, so this can be a great example,” said Worthey.
She said it is a great thing to see so many young people getting involved in Big Brothers / Big Sisters. Worthey did note that there is a shortage of male volunteers. However, many members of the RLC baseball team have said they are interested in joining, a move which could help remedy the situation.
“This is certainly a boost,” said Worthey. The student athletes will be paired up when possible with kids from their own hometowns to avoid hardship to the students.
RLC women’s golfer Jessica Smith, who resides in Ina but is originally from Belleville, said she participated in Big Brothers / Big Sisters while in high school. “I really enjoyed it and I would like to be a teacher,” she said. “It was a lot of fun and it was certainly rewarding. I learned a lot.”
Fellow golfer Megan Hood, who also resides in Ina but is originally from Coulterville, said this will be her first experience with Big Brothers / Big Sisters.
“I really like little kids. This wasn’t available at our high school or I would have joined up,” Hood said. She said signing up is strictly voluntary. The athletes are not receiving college credit for joining the organization.
Wendi Pyron, a volleyballer from Du Quoin, said, “I just want to make a difference with a little kid.” She has plans to become an elementary teacher.
Pyron said she has a little brother at home, so she has plenty of ideas for activities. She said she has a hunch that the youngster she is matched with will get to come to a volleyball game. Coach Rhonda Carlton has said the youngsters who come to the games with their partners will get a free T-shirt and other items.
“It’s an amazing thing for the athletic department and for the community,” said Brent McLain, Assistant to the President for Athletics and head coach of the cross-country and track-and-field teams. “In the big picture, it’s not about reputation or image, it’s about what you are doing to help kids in a world that is not perfect.
“If it will help our athletes become better students and citizens, it’s worth it. We’re very happy about it. It speaks volumes about these students,” McLain added.
“The number of student athletes from Rend Lake College participating in the Big Brothers / Big Sisters program is a testament to the quality of young men and women we have here. It is wonderful to see young people willing to share their talents and gifts with a new generation,” said Learning Enhancement Specialist Tara Sullivan. She oversees the RLC Learning Enhancement Center, a study environment which all student athletes are required to attend.
For more information, contact McLain at (618) 437-5321, Ext. 1347, or call toll-free (in-district only) at 1-800-369-5321, Ext. 1347.
Anyone interested in signing up with Big Brothers / Big Sisters can contact Worthey (Franklin and Williamson counties) at (618) 937-6483, Ext. 7298, or Lynch (Jefferson and Marion counties) at (618) 244-4099.