RACINE — Big Brothers Big Sisters of Racine and Kenosha Counties’ new executive director has some new ideas for removing “Littles” (mentees) from its long waiting list and pairing with “Bigs” (mentors).
Sonya Thomas, who relocated to Racine in July, said the organization has 85 children waiting to be paired with a mentor.
“Mentors range from empty nesters and retirees, to single adults, couples and even high school upperclassmen,” Thomas said via email. “We especially need African-American males to step in to fill the gap.”
One avenue they are pursuing is partnering with area colleges to develop programs in which a group of college students could mentor the children on campus.
Amy Garrigan, the community engagement specialist at UW-Parkside, said she thinks it could be an opportunity for some Parkside students.
“I think for some of our students that have a career interest in working with children, whether in education or some other major working with kids, it would be great experience,” said Garrigan.
She hopes they can work it out so they can bring the mentees on campus, partly for the convenience of the college students, who don’t always have reliable transportation. But Garrigan said it would also be a great opportunity for the children to see a college campus and meet college students.
Thomas emphasized that mentoring relationships have an outsized impact on children’s lives. According to studies about young people who have an adult friend in their lives:
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- 90% report it helps them improve in school, with their mental health and in reducing delinquency.
- 97% reduce risky behaviors.
- 84% sustain or improve their grades.
- 93% feel a sense of belonging or being socially accepted; when many started they reported they were being bullied or had low self-esteem and.
- 92% graduate high school and go on to college.
“Its really important,” said Thomas. “When Littles are matched with Bigs, they go on and they have a lot of successes in their life.”
Before moving to Racine, Thompson was the executive director at the United Way of Northeast Michigan. Before that she did communications, marketing and development at several nonprofits throughout her home state of Ohio including Girl Scouts of the USA, the American Heart Association, the Toledo Northwestern Ohio Food Bank and St. Vincent de Paul of Greater Dayton.
In the press release announcing her hire, Thomas says she’s a mother of two young adult children and a Goldendoodle dog, loves photography, traveling, downhill skiing, biking, kayaking, camping and gardening.
When she saw the job opening at Big Brothers Big Sisters, she thought it would be a good fit: she knew she wanted to stay in the Great Lakes region because she likes spending time outdoors, even during the upper Midwestern winters.
“I’m one of those strange people who love the winter,” she said.
She also has a lot of family in the Chicago and Milwaukee areas. She’s officially settled in after buying a house in Racine near the lake.
“I feel like I’m finally settling down and establishing roots,” she said.
For more information about Big Brothers Big Sisters in Racine and Kenosha Counties, go to www.bbbsrk.org.