Big Brothers/Big Sisters has plenty of children who need mentors, but mentors of all ages are in short supply in Sussex County.
Big Brothers/Big Sisters Program Manager Raymond Quillen said, "It's an issue we deal with nationally. We need money, but sometimes I think we need volunteers more."
At Big Brothers/Big Sisters, case managers match youth ages 6 to 17 with adults who, after completing a background check and screening process, agree to act as mentors and friends to students who have been referred and are often from nontraditional or single-parent families.
The program faces a shortage of mentors for all children, he said, but he would especially like to welcome more men into the program to serve as Big Brothers to kids looking for guidance.
As many as 70 percent of the volunteers are women, Quillen said.
"We would be ecstatic if we had volunteers for all the waiting kids," he said. "We really need men to step up and to help with the program."
Case manager Nancy Raihaill said students and mentors are paired based on geographic location and common or shared interests to meet once a week in schools or several times monthly in a community setting.
Mentors may help a student with schoolwork, but more often, pairs spend time doing leisurely activities such as going out to dinner, catching a movie or playing sports and developing a friendship.
Many times, students in the program will open up to a Big Brother or Big Sister about things they won't reveal to a parent or guardian, another benefit of the program, Quillen said. Instead of turning to peers, kids in the program may often seek out advice from their mentor and benefit from the counsel of an adult they trust.
"We are trying to put them with a mentor and a friend," Raihall said. "Not someone to replace Mom or Dad."
Anyone 18 years old to 80 can become a mentor, Quillen said. Younger mentors may do more high-energy activities with their littles, but often the older volunteers have the most experience to share, he said.
"Even the oldest volunteers have wisdom and interest in what kids are doing in their lives," Quillen said.
Often, volunteers like Corie Charpentier, a graduate student at the University of Delaware Hugh R. Sharp Campus in Lewes, are surprised at how much they get from the experience as well.
"I'm probably learning more than he is," Charpentier said, pointing to her "little brother," Gabe. "I was looking for an outlet other than work and school. It's nice to interact with someone other than scientists."
For more information or to get involved as a mentor at Big Brothers/Big Sisters of Delaware, go to www.bbbsde.org or call 302-856-2918.