Jazmin shares her carrots and her dreams with Emily, her mentor in the Big Brothers Big Sisters Lunch Buddy Program.
Emily Mathys looks forward to her Friday lunch dates. But instead of dining in a trendy restaurant with co-workers, the chiropractic assistant from Marysville meets a special friend outside the elementary school cafeteria. Emily is a mentor in the Big Brothers Big Sisters Lunch Buddy program.
“The kids bring their lunch and we either play a game or talk about something exciting that’s going on this week,” Emily said. “Sometimes she brings up some concerns she has, and I feel like that’s when I can be a good role model for her if she has any questions. We socialize. We have a good time together.”
Emily has been paired with Jazmin Stebbins, a fourth-grader at Northwoods Elementary, since October. Jazmin is one of four siblings and is used to competing for attention. But for 30 minutes each week, she gets a special friend all to herself.
“Some of the kids don’t get that one-on-one time with an adult, and this fills a gap that is so needed,” said Melissa Hackett, Principal at Northwoods Elementary. “And our kids just thrive. We see all kinds of positive rewards from this program. From their excitement to come to school, an increase in attendance, their work ethic. They want to work hard to show their buddy what they’re doing and tell them about it. We are so appreciative of the program. It means the world to the kids to have that special friend.”
Studies show that after spending 18 months with their Big Brother or Sister, the Littles are:
46% less likely to begin using illegal drugs.
27% less likely to begin using alcohol.
52% less likely to skip school.
37% less likely to skip a class.
33% less likely to hit someone.
Big Brothers Big Sisters, a United Way Funded Partner, currently has 36 Lunch Buddy matches in three elementary schools in Union County and could easily facilitate more if it had enough volunteers. Lunch Buddies are an offshoot of its traditional mentoring program that pairs an adult mentor with a child for a long-term relationship. Here, the commitment is once a week during the school year.
“It really helps the kids with their self-esteem,” said Nikki James, Big Brothers Big Sisters Union County Program Coordinator. “They come out of their shells and learn to interact better with their peers. They’re referred for a variety of reasons. It brings consistency to their lives, and a special friend, specifically chosen just for them. They know they’re important to someone.”
On this particular day, Jazmin teases Emily about how short her hair looks after a recent trip to the beauty shop. Over pizza and carrots, they play a game of Racko and preview weekend plans.
“She has a really good personality,” Jazmin said. “She’s very interesting. She’s really kind. The bad thing is when we have Friday off and I don’t get to see her.”
“There’s such a fulfillment, a joy in me that is indescribable,” Emily said. “It’s been a huge blessing for me to share a relationship – even with someone who’s not a family member. Somebody with whom you are secure and that you trust and they feel confident talking to you about other things. Having a friend and being a true, real friend.”
Men interested in being Lunch Buddies are especially needed so that Big Brothers Big Sisters can match them with boys awaiting the opportunity. Interested volunteers are screened via an interview process complete with reference and criminal background checks and are trained before being paired with a child. Emily encourages others to consider volunteering.
“It’s a perfect match,” she said. “We have the same enthusiasm and excitement for life. When I come to pick up my kindergartener here after school, Jazmin will come up and give me a hug. It’s indescribable, and sometimes brings me to tears a little bit. She’s just so special to me.”
United Way works to bring neighbors and resources together to improve lives in Union County. United Way of Union County has raised more than $19 million for local needs since it was established in 1958. More than just a fundraiser, United Way collaborates with local businesses, government, and non-profit organizations to solve pressing social service issues large and small.
For more information, please call Big Brothers Big Sisters at (937) 642—0472 or visit www.emarysville.com/bbbs/index.php or www.unitedwayofunioncounty.org.