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Mentor program makes headway in Waco

Nov. 12, 1999

Big Brothers, Sisters builds relationships



As Cincinnati businessman Irvin Westheimer rounded the corner on his way home from work, he glanced at his watch and sighed as he realized it was already two hours past quitting time.

Looking up again, he almost tripped over the small, hunched-over mass at his feet. There, he saw a little boy and his dog, scavenging through a trashcan for food. Shivering from the frigid wind and barely strong enough to replace the lid on to the can, the boy cowered in fear, having disrupted a man of such obvious importance.

Westheimer introduced himself to the boy, took him home and fed him a warm meal. Later, he met the boy's impoverished family, and soon he became a trusted mentor for the youngster.

The year was 1903, and Irvin Westheimer had just initiated the idea that was to become one of the greatest mentoring programs in the United States.

In 1904, following Westheimer's premise, New York Big Brothers was founded, and the group became official. Since then, the group has evolved into Big Brothers Big Sisters of America, and today, more than 500 of its agencies can be found in all 50 states

Making friends

Katie Sciba, case manager at BBBS of Waco, said the program in the Waco community is thriving. Since its beginning in August 1994, 45 big/little matches have been made in McLennan County. Sciba said the program revolves around the goal of providing a positive adult role model for disadvantaged children.

'We're making a positive impact on the lives of children who will grow up to be leaders in the community,' Sciba said.

BBBS matches children from ages seven to 17 with an adult who is willing to spend a regular amount of time with them. Sciba said the goal is to provide single-parent, financially struggling, or otherwise challenged families with a positive outlet for their child or children. The purpose of BBBS is to build one-on-one relationships between a 'big' and a 'little', providing the 'little' with the personal attention he or she may not get on a regular basis at home.

BBBS works with school counselors, social workers and family members to match children with adults in the community.

Sciba said the program is already working to achieve goals at the community level.

'One of the goals of Big Brothers Big Sisters is to eliminate the cycle of poverty,' Sciba said. 'The mentor/child relationship works to achieve the highest potential of the child.'

Of the 45 matches made in McLennan County since 1993, there is a wide range of ages, ethnicities and social and economic levels among the 'bigs' and 'littles.' Sciba said the average age of 'littles' is between nine and 14. Most 'bigs', she said, are young adults, usually 20 to 30 years old, but there are some who are as young as 18 and as old as 60.

Josh Moody, a senior from Nashville, Tenn., has been involved with BBBS since September. He said he strongly believes in the mission of BBBS.

'One-on-one relationships let a child know he's valuable and has inherent worth as a person,' he said.

Moody mentors a 14-year-old boy in the Waco area. He said he was eager to meet his 'little.'

'[The day we met] was an important day for him and me,' he said. 'It was exciting and I was nervous for him.'

Dual learning

Moody said although his personality is different than his 'little's,' they get along well and enjoy spending time together.

'We go canoeing and hiking together. You know, guy stuff. I took him to the [Baylor] football game a couple of weeks ago. I think he really liked that.'

Moody said the main difference between his 'little's' environment and the one he grew up in is the absence of a strong male role model.

'I'm not fulfilling a father role for him,' Moody said. 'I'm just trying to build a friendship and be the best role model I can.'

A unique characteristic of BBBS is that, in addition to pairing 'bigs' with 'littles,' the program also offers a match option of placing a 'little' with a married couple. Jason and Farrah Eckenrode, of Waco, were matched with a little brother in April. Since then, the three have discovered many similarities that have made the match comfortable and fun.

'We're all kind of the same. More of the quiet type,' Farrah Eckenrode said. 'He was really shy, so I really tried to break the ice in the beginning.'

Eckenrode said she suggested the idea to her husband when she went back to school, leaving her husband alone in the evenings.

'I thought it would be a good way to help a child, and he'd have someone to be with when I'm at classes,' she said.

The Eckenrodes spend time with their 12-year-old little brother twice a week.

'He plays football so we go to his games quite a bit,' Eckenrode said. 'We sit in the stands and cheer right along with his mom.'

Eckenrode said being with her and her husband's 'little' also lets her feel like a kid again herself.

'Since we're younger, we can relate to him,' she said. 'I see myself as a responsible adult, but I don't feel like I'm grown up.'

Making a difference

Whether through doing math problems, baking cookies or playing catch, big brothers and big sisters are working to make a difference in the Waco community. Sciba said the program is growing daily, and shows no sign of stopping any time soon.

'I believe it is the most effective mentoring program in the United States,' she said. 'We are out to make a difference in the life of each child we touch.'

Moody said she agrees, and said that in addition to helping a child, BBBS produces personal satisfaction as well.

'There is a certain amount of fulfillment found in giving yourself to someone else, and seeing someone develop to the full potential he has.'