Big Brothers, Big Sisters is raising awareness this month to attract more mentors for local children in need

by: KEVIN SPERL - Garret Nyman, left, has been a Big Brother to Richie for seven years.

January is National Mentoring month, and the local Big Brothers, Big Sisters (BBBS) organization is hoping to raise awareness and attract mentors for the 18 Crook County children awaiting their guidance.

Mentors, known as "Bigs," and those they mentor, "Littles," spend a few hours each month playing catch, reading books, going to museums, or simply, and most importantly, giving and receiving advice and inspiration.

And, those few hours do make a difference.

According to a study released by BBBS, 81-percent of former Littles agree that their Big gave them hope, and changed their perspective of what they thought possible.

The important thing is to give kids a positive community experience," said Amanda Gow, program director of Big Brothers, Big Sisters of Central Oregon. "They may never have the opportunity otherwise."

Garret Nyman met his Little, Richie, when Nyman was 15, and Richie 9.

At the time, Richie's parents were getting a divorce and his grandfather had just passed away.

"I didn't have a male influence in my life anymore," said Richie. "I knew I needed help from the outside."

The pair initially met a few times each week, at the former Kid's Club, playing foosball and enjoying their shared passion for drawing.

Today, Richie is a 15-year-old junior at Crook County High, and Garret a college graduate.

“We are still officially in the program,” said Nyman, “but we are just buddies now.”

Richie agreed, saying that Garret has shown him what polite people do.

“When Garret is not around, I know how to act,” he said. “I’ve also learned to stay away from peer pressure. I know what it’s like to be a guy.”

“Mentoring Works!” is January’s theme and conveys the message that, unlike Richie, many young people do not have a caring adult mentor to provide them encouragement and support.

Although organizations like BBBS provide the message, it is the volunteers that make it successful.

“Volunteers and their Littles might walk the track before school, eat lunch together, or do homework,” said Gow. “Others may meet at the library or attend community events together.”

Jeannie Stephens is a Big to ninth-grader Brittney, and second-grader Jessica.

“When I was young, one of my brothers had a Big, and they are still in contact,” said Stephens, enjoying an early dinner at McDonalds with both her Littles.

Having relocated to Prineville in 2000, Jeannie worked with special needs students in the schools, and when she retired, found she missed connecting with kids.

Brittany was a second-grader when she met Stephens, and, like her, had a sibling that received guidance from a Big.

“I decided that I wanted a Big,” she said. “And, now I have a little sister as well,” referring to Jessica, who was eating most of Brittney’s fries.

According to Gow, BBBS volunteers, like Stephens and Nyman, share an interest in impacting their community in a positive fashion.

“Bigs do want to see their community remain strong,” she said. “And can give their Littles that same sense of pride.”

The statistics bear that out, as most Littles think that their Big made them feel better about themselves, helping them to make better choices throughout their adult life.

Richie said that his relationship with Nyman has given him the confidence to join the Jazz Choir and Chorale and the school band, all while holding down a job at the local Dairy Queen.

“School, work, and traveling with the band,” said Richie, “that’s what I do.”

Brittney feels that Stephens has become someone she trusts, saying, “I can talk to her about things I may not want to tell my parents.”

Stephens likes to tell the story about how Britney, when younger, would sit on her lap and drive her car.

“As long as we were on our gravel road, we were OK,” laughed Stephens. “We would put the pedal to the metal, wouldn’t we?”

And now, Brittney is about to get her own driver’s license.

Once a month, Gow organizes activities in Prineville, bringing together Bigs, Littles and kids on the waiting list.

Board games at Book and Bean, whitewater rafting, trips to the Terrebonne pumpkin patch, or arts and crafts are just some of the events planned.

“We have also had a couch potato night,” said Gow, “We watch TV and bake potatoes.”

Gow said that more volunteers are needed in Crook County, and the qualifications are simply that they have a passion and the time to give back.

“Our goal for January is to find 10 new volunteers for the program,” said Gow. “Eight hours a month can make such a difference to these kids.”

Stephens agreed, saying “there are a lot of kids who need to be mentored. It can actually change their life, so just be there as a friend, care for them, love them and always pray for them.”

Big Brothers, Big Sisters of Central Oregon is looking for the following Crook County-based volunteers:

Nine walking or lunch buddies for fourth- and fifth-grade boys and girls.

Two lunch buddies for middle school sixth-graders.

Four Big Brothers: one for a third-grade boy who loves baseball and Legos; one for a fourth-grade boy who needs a positive influence; one for a sixth-grade boy; and one for an eighth-grade boy who loves the outdoors.

Three Big Sisters: One for a first-grader who loves to be active, and two for elementary-age girls who are looking for someone to help them with homework and have some fun!

For information about Central Oregon's Big Brother, Big Sister program, visit

For more information about National Mentoring Month, visit

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