The Oakhurst Big Brothers Big Sisters “High School Bigs “program held its second summer pizza-swim party July 23 at the Harry Baker Swim Complex on the Yosemite High School campus.
With the temperature creeping over the 100 degree mark, it was a good day for a swim party.
As the children cooled off in the pool, ate pizza, and received new back packs and school supplies, Paul and Theresa Bryant sat smiling in the background. The party, and the entire program would not exist without the Bryant Family (True Value Home Centers in Oakhurst and Yosemite Lakes Park).
The Big Brothers Big Sisters program, a collaborative effort between Oakhurst Elementary School and Yosemite High School, will return for a third year due to another generous $20,000 donation from the Bryant family. The program provides academic mentors from YHS for the younger students once a week for 90 minutes.
“This program would not be possible if it weren’t for the generosity and support from the Bryant family,” said Diane Phakonekham, executive director of Big Brother Big Sisters of Central California.
“My grandfather was involved with Big Brother Big Sisters starting in the 50s, and he continued to volunteer for many years until his passing,” Theresa said. “It makes me personally proud to be involved with such a long standing and well respected children’s organization.”
The majority of OES students and YHS students in the program will be partnered with the same student for the third year when school begins in two weeks.
From the first year, Theresa felt the Big Brothers Big Sisters program would make a difference in the lives of not only the “Littles” at OES, but also for the ‘Bigs” at Yosemite High.
These feelings were confirmed by Big Brothers Big Sisters Madera County Program Director Zenia Brizendine.
“Our staff has closely tracked the educational and social growth in the young students at OES,” Brizendine said. “In just two years, we have seen some amazing improvements in the children in the program in language arts (reading), math, and social behavior.”
Shawn Ensminger’s nine-year-old son Jackson has benefited from his two years in the program.
“Jackson used to have a hard time interacting with some classmates and adults, but becuase of the program we have seen him grow socially and his Big has really helped him improve his school work,” Shawn said. “He enjoys going each week - he feels wanted.”
YHS graduate Audrey White, currently preparing to move to San Louis Obispo to attend Cuesta College, spent two years teamed-up with OES student Edgar Luna.
“It was a great experience to be a part of the program and help Edgar with his homework,” White said. “We’ll be friends for life.”
This school year, after assisting at three school programs in Madera, Gustavo Vela will run the Oakhurst program, assisted by Noemy Mendoza.
“I’m excited to begin the new school year and doing great things with the program here in Oakhurst,” Vela said. “I’m looking forward to forming friendships with all the Littles and their families. The better we know the whole family, the better we can serve their children.”
“The Big Brothers Big Sisters staff is so committed to our community and the children,” (Paul or Theresa???)Bryant said. “The Littles really light up when the staff and the Bigs show up each Tuesday afternoon during school. It has been a very fulfilling experience to see the difference the program is making.”
“We encourage other community businesses to get involved to help the program grow,” Theresa Bryant said. “The ultimate goal is to have full-time BBBS staff in Oakhurst so they can offer their full range of services to our community.”
Details: Gustavo Vela, (559) 301-7295.
NOTE: The swimming pool at Yosemite High will be open to the public through Aug. 6. Hours are 11 a.m. - 7 p.m. Monday through Friday and 11 a.m. - 6 p.m. on Saturday. Closed on Sunday. Cost $4 - $3.50 seniors.
About Big Brothers Big Sisters
It all started in 1904, when a young New York City court clerk named Ernest Coulter was seeing more and more boys come through his courtroom. He recognized that caring adults could help many of these children stay out of trouble, and he set out to find volunteers. That marked the beginning of the Big Brothers movement.
At around the same time, the members of a group called Ladies of Charity were befriending girls who had come through the New York Children’s Court. That group would later become Catholic Big Sisters.
Both groups continued to work independently until 1977, when Big Brothers Association and Big Sisters International joined forces and became Big Brothers Big Sisters of America. Today, Big Brothers Big Sisters is in all 50 states and 12 countries around the world.
Big Brothers Big Sisters has existed in the Central Valley since 1969, increasing education levels, strengthening families, and increasing positive youth development through one-to-one caring relationships. Over the past 47 years, the agency has successfully served more than over 10,000 children in the Central Valley.