When Chloe Roe was in fifth grade, she got a Big Sister. She was matched with Taylor Swain, a senior at Hiwassee Dam High School. After Swain graduated and moved on to college, no other matches were made for Roe, and she was no longer in the Big Brothers Big Sisters program.
“I wished I could have done it longer,” Roe said. “It was kinda sad, but I was excited for her.”
Swain continued to visit Roe when she could, so it was still like having a Big. When she was old enough, Roe began to give back to the program she wished she could have enjoyed more and become a Big Sister.
“It was just really important to me because it made a big impact on me when I was little,” Roe said.
Roe, a senior at Hiwassee Dam today, is hoping she can follow in Swain’s footsteps and continue visiting her Little Sister from college at either Elon University or Duke University. She also thinks more people in the community should become a mentor in the program.
“I would definitely encourage everyone to do it,” Roe said. “It helps the Littles and the Bigs … I think my favorite part was being a Big, knowing I made a difference.”
Big Brothers Big Sisters of Cherokee County is in need of volunteers wanting to mentor kids as “Bigs.” January is National Mentoring Month.
Gloria Dockery, local program coordinator, said the county has about 70 matches, with at least 30 kids waiting to be matched.
“During the last four years, we have more than doubled the number of children needing to be served in partnership with Cherokee County Schools,” Dockery said. “With that comes the missing piece of the puzzle. We must have a volunteer to make that match complete.”
She said they volunteers to mentor more than ever. Usually, the program coordinators try to match Bigs and Littles with similar personalities or hobbies. For example, Chloe and her Little enjoy sports.
Most of the matches in Cherokee County are school-based, with the Big meeting the Little once a week at the child’s school. They play games, play sports, do learning activities and read together.
According to Big Brothers Big Sisters of Western North Carolina, Littles showed huge improvements during the 2016-17 school year – 93 percent had improved self-confidence, 86 percent improved academically and 87 percent behaved better at school. When compared to their peers, Littles were 46 percent less likely to begin illegal drug use.
High school students ages 16 and older can volunteer as Bigs, like Roe is doing. Once they graduate, Dockery said they could continue with their matches as long as they want to if they regularly stay in contact. Cherokee County has about 15 high school seniors volunteering as Bigs.
For details about becoming a volunteer, call 361-0989 or visit bbbswnc.org.
Connecting through COVID
Throughout the fall semester, Bigs and Littles couldn’t meet in person. Roe said it was difficult.
“I was looking forward to our meetings once a week, and I know she was, too,” Roe said.
Her Little, being a third-grader, doesn’t have a cell phone, so she would call her older sister and connect through her. Other Bigs found ways to connect.
“It’s been a little bit challenging with COVID,” said Ginger Hubbard, another Big Sister. “But we’ve made it work.”
She’s chatted on the phone with her Little. The national organization gave guidance about using video chat tools to stay connected, and she downloaded Google Duo for video phone calls.
“It just worked,” Hubbard said. “They’re very appreciative of everything you do for them.”
Roe said she was told in-person meetings were starting back soon.
Hubbard was approached by Dockery about becoming a Big Sister. She told her she had twin girls who were perfect matches for her and her daughter, Ali Amos.
“We thought about it, and thought, why not?” Hubbard said.
The mother and daughter are very volunteer-minded. They have helped Shop with a Cop and held fundraisers for cystic fibrosis.
She said when they first met the girls at Murphy Elementary School three years ago, they were so cute, and noticed similarities right away. For example, Hubbard and the twin she’s matched with both wear glasses.
“They were tickled because they thought we were meant to be,” Hubbard said.
Through her meetings with her Little, Hubbard tries to teach life lessons. While some kids come from troubled backgrounds, she said the twins have happy home lives.
She sees her role as just being a friend and building a friendship.
“You can never have too many friends,” Hubbard said.
“Building a friendship with a purpose is the main goal of the Big Brother Big Sister program,” Roe agreed.
As a result, Hubbard recommends that anyone interested in mentoring is prepared for the long-term effects, noting she has seen former Littles who have grown up still in a relationship with their former Big.
“It’s kinda like a lifelong commitment,” Hubbard said.