Q&A with Mickell Gooden

July 17, 2013 

City of Residence: Warner Robins

Occupation: Program Area Manager, Big Brothers/Big Sisters of the Heart of Georgia

QUESTION: What is Big Brothers/Big Sisters?

ANSWER: It’s a national mentoring agency that provides children facing adversity with strong, enduring, professionally supported one-on-one relationships that can change their lives for the better forever.

QUESTION: How does that happen?

ANSWER: We match volunteers from the community to serve as Big Brothers and Big Sisters to mentor children 5 to 15 years old. We partner with parents to help get more resources in their child’s corner through our school-based program and our community-based program as well as being able to provide them information about services available to them they may not be aware of.

QUESTION: Describe those two programs.

ANSWER: We partner with the local school system in the school-based program, and Big Brothers or Big Sisters see the child at school an hour a week. Usually 30 minutes on academics and 30 minutes having fun somehow like with crossword puzzles, playing tic-tac-toe, talking, talking about goals and future goals and dreams.

The community-based program allows the mentor to go to children’s homes, school or to some activity in the community. Our requirements are eight to 10 hours a month for this. It’s less about a weekly commitment and more about quality blocks of time to create some great times.

QUESTION: How many participants are there?

ANSWER: In Houston County we have 232 active matches.

QUESTION: That’s quite a few.

ANSWER: Uh huh, but we have a waiting list of 542.

QUESTION: So is it that you need volunteers?

ANSWER: Yes. Of course, the program is gender specific -- males with males and females with females--and it’s important to note we have about 70 percent female and 30 percent male volunteers, so the biggest need is for Big Brothers. I guess females just tend to be more nurturing and volunteer more.

QUESTION: What are requirements for volunteers?

ANSWER: You have to be 18 years old and pass national and local child abuse background checks and a sexual abuse registry check. We definitely want to filter out unwanted volunteers. We ask for a one-year commitment, but the longer and stronger you are with a child the greater the impact. Four or five years is average, but we’ve had volunteers 10-plus years who’ve become like family with the child. We’re looking for people who will value and be consistent in the relationship. That’s the most important thing -- to be a consistent part of that child’s life.

QUESTION: Other than help with academics, what do Big Brothers and Big Sisters do?

ANSWER: Academics is the priority, help with homework, reading together, tutoring or getting them tutoring, but some children may not need much of that. They may need more fun stuff and encouragement. Going to a ball game, a movie, the museum, doing some hobby together or any of the things people do. It’s possible they need emotional support because they’re going through a hard time or through a death in the family. But just having fun is a big part. No one want as relationship that’s not fun.

QUESTION: How do people initiate volunteering?

ANSWER: Call us at 745-3984, or better yet, go to our website at www.bbbsheartga.org. If you go there you can fill out some required stuff and we can begin the process and get back with you.

QUESTION: How do kids get involved?

ANSWER: A parent might see our information, or a teacher might recommend them. Sometimes we have grants that require us to target a specific population, but overall there are no requirements, just that the child is willing to be in the program. Ninety percent of children are from one-parent households. Big Brothers and Big Sisters supplement and reinforce a positive role model.

Answers may have been edited for length and clarity. Compiled by Michael W. Pannell. Contact him at mwpannell@gmail.com.

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