High schoolers find joy in mentoring
Murphy – Every day Murphy High School senior Jillian Phillips visits Murphy Elementary School, Jason comes running out of his second-grade classroom to greet her. They go to another room in the school to play games, chat and even practice schoolwork.
“We have a lot of fun,” Jason said.
Phillips is Jason’s Big Sister in the Big Brothers Big Sisters mentoring program, and is one of at least 37 local high school students volunteering as a Big in the program. This is Phillips’ first year as a mentor, but she has volunteered for the organization in the past, as well as with the Special Olympics and Murphy Crop Walk.
“I just like making a difference,” Phillips said. “I really do enjoy doing this.”
She likes seeing the effects of her volunteer work, and mentoring really allows her to do that.
“It’s more hands-on and really getting to know who you are helping,” Phillips said. “It’s more rewarding.”
Chloe Harrelson, a senior at Hiwassee Dam High School, is also a Big Sister. She said the other community service she does as part of the National Honor Society and 4-H are not as personal.
“You are getting that interpersonal relationship,” Harrelson said about mentoring.
Being a 4-H member led her to start mentoring with Big Brothers Big Sisters. During her sophomore year, she was looking for another way to serve her community, and one of the seniors in 4-H told her she would be perfect for Big Brothers Big Sisters.
In her three years, she had two matches – one was a child who just needed someone to laugh with, and her Little Sister today needs help with schoolwork. Phillips said she has been able to tailor what she does with each child based on their needs, with guidance from the Little’s teachers, parents and Gloria Dockery, local program director for Big Brothers Big Sisters.
As of December, there were 82 matches total in Cherokee County, meaning about half of the mentors in the program are high school students.
“It’s awesome,” Dockery said. “We would like to have more outside adults come in.”
She said there are about 15 Littles at the beginning stages or ready to be matched. Those who would like to mentor as a Big must be at least 16 years old, complete an enrollment form, plus attend an interview and training. All potential Bigs must submit two references and allow a background check.
The commitment is just one hour per week at an elementary school for one calendar year. Dockery said she doesn’t like to rush into creating matches when she has a new volunteers – and actually has one adult male waiting to be matched now – to make sure the Big and Little will be compatible.
Samantha Cross, the AmeriCorps volunteer who helps coordinate the program at Andrews Elementary, had one match this year that was special – she thought their personalities were very similar, and when she introduced them, found out they already knew each other through family.
Gracie Runge and Cadence have been able to bond and help each other through their match. Runge, a junior who was considering becoming a pediatrician, jumped at the chance to become a Big after the announcement for the need for volunteers was made at Andrews High School this fall.
Mentoring Cadence has helped her figure out that it’s worth it to her to pursue the work involved to become a pediatrician. Cadence said having Runge visit her once a week has inspired her to do better in school.
“It would be very, very hard not having her,” Cadence said. “She’s like my real big sister, and I love her.”
Tristan Hamby, guidance counselor at Hiwassee Dam Elementary/Middle School, said she’s seen the difference Big Brothers Big Sisters has made on her students.
“Big Brothers Big Sisters gives the students an opportunity to create a friendship with a positive role model,” Hamby said. “It helps to improve academics, social skills and even sometimes behavior.”
Hamby said she has 11 students active as Littles, and has one more child who needs to be matched with an adult male role model. She added that only four of the Littles at her school are girls, but only one Big is a boy.
Both Andrews and Murphy high schools have five boys each who volunteer as Bigs in the elementary schools, but there are tons of boy Littles in the elementary schools, Dockery said.
“We don’t have enough males,” Dockery said. “We would love to have more adult Bigs.”
Phillips said anyone thinking about volunteering as a mentor should definitely do it because of how rewarding it is to see a child grow through the interactions.
“It’s totally worth it,” she said.
Harrelson and Phillips said they would like to continue volunteer work of some sort in college. Volunteering with Big Brothers Big Sisters is something they would look into in their college communities.
“If it’s possibility, I would most definitely love to do it,” Harrelson said.
For details, contact Dockery at 361-0989 or firstname.lastname@example.org.