MISSOULA - January is National Mentoring Month, and Big Brothers Big Sisters of Northwest Montana (BBBSNWMT) is using the movement to encourage more people to become volunteers in the Kalispell and Missoula areas.
Volunteers for BBBSNWMT are matched with a child ages 6 to 16 years old. The adult then spends at least an hour or two every week with the child.
Having an adult mentor has been shown to reduce bullying and drug use while improving academic performance for kids, according to the Big Brother Big Sister National Organization.
Typically the organization helps kids from single parent-households or no-parent guardian households, but anyone can be referred for extra support.
“We do see more referrals from kids that don’t have the typical nuclear upbringing, however, sometimes anybody needs an adult support system," BBBSNWMT executive director Danielle Kelly said.
Because volunteers are matched with children based on compatibility, the non-profit needs a large group of mentors.
“The need is always there," Kelly said. "Our goal is to always serve more youth. To always be able to match more youth with mentors. But we need the mentors to do that, and we need a large pool because we don’t just match on a first-come first-serve basis, we match on compatibility on several levels so that we can create enduring relationships that can last longer if possible.”
BBBSNWMT has two volunteering programs.
Their community-based program asks volunteers to meet with their little eight to 10 hours a month for a year. The mentor is able to pick the kid up and bring them to some of the volunteer's own favorite spots or hobbies.
"Just having that one caring adult in your life, makes a big difference," Kelly noted. "Most of us can think of an adult mentor in our youth that we remember back on that they really touched our heart, and that's what we're looking for in this program."
The school-based program runs the length of a school year — approximately nine months. The volunteer is matched with a student and spends time with them at their school. The program works well for folks who have a busier schedule and are looking for a set time and place, according to Kelly.
Overall, the volunteer program is a commitment, and Kelly does not want anyone to take the agreement lightly, "we don’t want you to get matched, then have to pull out of a relationship because that is very detrimental."
Despite the commitment, Kelly says volunteering with BBBSNWMT is incredibly rewarding.
The agreement is for one year, yet volunteers usually keep mentoring their child for over two years. And in the Flathead, there are mentor relationships that have lasted over five years, according to Kelly.
In Montana as well as nationally, Big Brothers Big Sisters has a particularly high need for male mentors, as the most commonly referred kids are boys.
Those who are interested in volunteering or donating can contact Danielle Kelly at email@example.com or 406-752-0092.
Additional information on BBBSNWMT can be found here.