• Emily and her Big Sister, Sonia Lovingood, spend time learning and developing life skills during their volunteer time through Big Brothers Big Sisters. Photo by BEN KATZ
    Emily and her Big Sister, Sonia Lovingood, spend time learning and developing life skills during their volunteer time through Big Brothers Big Sisters. Photo by BEN KATZ

SCOUTING AROUND: Lovingood gives back as mentor

   On most days, Sonia Lovingood works at Murphy Medical Center in Peachtree as a registered respiratory therapist and registered cardiac stenographer. But on Tuesdays, she spends an hour of her morning at Murphy Elementary School sharing her time with a girl she gets to call her little sister.
   Lovingood is a big sister in the Big Brothers Big Sisters program. She has been a “big” – or mentor – for about four years, and was separately matched with two little brothers who ended up moving before getting matched with a little sister this school year.
   She started volunteering as a mentor with the program because she felt compelled as a Christian to give back. She believes that to be a Christian, a person needs to care about and help other people.
   “I just thought it was a good way to give back to the community and leave a positive influence on someone’s life,” Lovingood said. “In what I do, I see a lot of younger people get on the wrong track. I want to alter that track, even if it’s just one person.”
   However, not all “littles” in the program are in bad situations, she said. Some get recommended to the program simply because they are lacking social skills.
   Lovingood has noticed one thing is the same. Each of her littles greets her with a smile and a hug, showing they enjoy seeing her. Her newest little, Emily, goes a step farther.
   “If I’m a little late, she lets me know,” Lovingood said.
   They spend the hour doing different things, sometimes directed by the child’s teacher. Activities have included working on homework, playing a game, playing outside or just talking. Spending that time with a child puts regular positive reinforcement in their lives, Lovingood said.
   “Everybody needs to feel special,” she said.
   She said giving back as a mentor for Big Brothers Big Sisters is fun – and it gives back to the mentor, too.
   “It gives you a good feeling to make a difference for someone else,” she said.
   Big Brothers Big Sisters is in its eighth year of making difference lives of children in Cherokee County. There are 55 matches, with several more starting this month, which is National Mentoring Month. Most of the matches are school-based, like Lovingood’s matches all have been, while six are community-based, in which the mentor and the child meet outside of school a couple of times a month.
   “Most of our community-based matches began as school-based, and as the relationship developed the child’s parent/guardian, the big sister or brother and the little all agreed to convert the match,” said Don Slifer, program coordinator for Big Brothers Big Sisters of Cherokee County.
   Slifer said there are at least 15 kids on the waiting lists, with Peachtree Elementary and Ranger Elementary/Middle schools as the top priorities for matches. The only requirement to be a mentor in the program is to enjoy being with children and be willing to commit the time needed for regular visits, he added. The program interviews potential volunteers, performs a background check and checks references.
   “It’s a great thing for people to do, especially retired people,” Lovingood said, explaining school-based meetings are during school hours. “I’m fortunate to have a day off during the week so I can do that.”
   She has many favorite moments with each of her littles, but one that stands out overall is the end-of-year party the program has for all the kids in the district. There’s a picnic, inflatables and firefighters.
   “It’s a great day,” she said. “Lots of smiling.”
   To volunteer with Big Brothers Big Sisters, email Slifer at cherokee@bbbswnc.org or call him at 644-9747.
   Samantha Sinclair is the Scouting Around columnist for the Cherokee Scout. You can reach her by email, scoutingaround@cherokeescout.com; fax, 837-5832; or by leaving a message in the office at 837-5122.