For the second year, students from Yosemite High School are participating in the the Big Brothers Big Sisters program with students at Oakhurst Elementary School.
After lengthy interviews, 20 YHS students were selected to serve as mentors for 20 third and fourth graders at OES. The YHS students, or “Bigs,” spend an hour and a half one day a week with their “Littles” at OES.
Agency staff strives for matches that are not only safe and well suited to each child’s needs, but harmonious and built to last.
“If we feel the candidate is a good fit, they are invited to a volunteer training and once that is completed they are accepted into the High School Bigs program,” Smith said. “We go to great lengths to ensure that the volunteers working with our youth are in good academic standing, and are good citizens. All of our volunteers are special in their own way ... they come from all walks of life and have their own stories and experiences to share with the children,”said Elizabeth Smith, High School Bigs Coordinator for Big Brothers Big Sisters.
For the second year, YHS senior Brianna McCully has been matched with 7-year-old third grader Abby Luna, and loves time spent at OES with her Little.
“I feel like Abby is my little sister, and I enjoy being around her and helping her with her homework and all the other activities we do with the children,” Mccully said. “Abby is a lot more outgoing and talkative this year than she was last year. I think this comes from her being a little older and being more comfortable with me and the program.”
McCully has been accepted to Northern Arizona University in Flagstaff, and will major in biomedical engineering, on a partial scholarship, in the fall.
Megan Montalto, 17, is Yosemite High’s drum major who plans to attend college to major in neurology and minor in the the arts (performing and or visual).
Montalto’s Little is 7 year-old Kate Ensminger, after working with another youngster last year.
“The matching is very important - to have the Bigs and the Littles with similar personalities and interests,” Montalto said.
“It’s a bit more challenging for me this year because Kate and I are not a perfect match, and we have different goals” she added. “We have different personalities - both pretty head strong - but I like that because it pushes both of us out of out comfort zones a bit. We have a good, healthy relation that teaches us both how to compromise.
“She’s very smart and picks things up quickly and interprets situations very well.”
This year YHS senior Bella Flaherty has been teamed with third grader Danyah Rivas.
Rivas said Flaherty helps her be a better student.
“I like spending time with Bella ... she helps me with my math and spelling,” Rivas said.
Flaherty, who will receive a four-year merit half scholarship (valued at more than $100,000) to attend USC to study pre-law, loves the Big Brothers Big Sisters program.
“This program is an amazing opportunity to influence a young child in a positive way,” Flaherty said. “You can really tell that the advisers and other mentors adore these children.”
“They may not realize it, but our volunteers are making a big difference in the lives of their Littles in the 90 minutes they spend together each week,” Smith said.
In addition to McCully, Montalto, and Flaherty, other Yosemite High students involved in the program this year include seniors Audrey White, Natalie Bates, Summer Bulmer, Gianna DeFelice, juniors Chandler Clarke, Will Martyn, Brittany Collier, Adam Vanzant, Brandon Heeley, Ryann Miller, and Jamie Hellwig, and sophomore Aubree Walle.
Stephanie Samuels, YHS guidance counselor, calls the program a “win-win.”
“Our YHS students have made many positive remarks about their relationship with their Little - it may be an over-used expression, but in this case I think Win/Win describes the program perfectly. The Little gets support and mentorship - the Big reaps gratification ... priceless.”
For the second year, the Bryant family (True Value Home Center, Yosemite Lumber) has made the Big Brothers Big sisters program possible in Oakhurst this year with its second generous donation of $20,000.
Theresa Bryant feels the program is making a difference in the lives of the OES students.
“We are extremely happy with the progress of the Yosemite High School Bigs program,” Bryant said. “The Big Brothers Big Sisters staff is so committed to our community and the children. The Littles really light up when the staff and the Bigs show up each Tuesday afternoon. It has been a very fulfilling experience to see the difference the program is making, for both the Littles and the Bigs. I believe the Bigs benefit just as much from the relationship. The Littles really do depend on them, and the YHS students see the importance of being reliable and showing up each week for their Little.”
This year, in addition to sponsoring the program at OES, the Bryant family will be awarding a $500 scholarship to one of the graduating Bigs.
“It’s important to us that we encourage and mentor the Bigs as well,” Theresa said. “We hope to be involved and sponsor the High School Bigs Program for many years to come. We encourage other community leaders and businesses to get involved as well so that the program can grow. The ultimate goal is to have full-time BBBS staff in Oakhurst so they can offer their full range of services to our community.”
About Big Brothers Big Sisters
For more than a century, Big Brothers Big Sisters has been helping change kids’ perspectives and giving them the opportunity to reach their potential.
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 kids 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.