Bringing Up Big Brothers

Volunteers to open Big Brothers, Sisters in Payson

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Big Brothers Big Sisters, an agency that matches adult volunteers with children who need positive role models, is coming to the Rim country.

"The biggest obstacle we face is that each branch has to raise its own budget," said Bob Zimmerman, a deputy probation officer for Gila County and one of the program's organizers. Zimmerman, who worked for Big Brothers Big Sisters for more than two years when he lived in Florida, said there is a great need for such a program in the Payson area.

"I conduct the drug court program here, and the largest percentage of the kids I see are single-parent kids," he said. "Most have had little or no contact with their father."

The agency that is organizing in the Rim country will be a satellite branch of Valley Big Brothers Big Sisters.

"Until recently, the national organization hasn't gotten involved in rural areas," Zimmerman said. "But when we contacted them, they said we could be a satellite of the one in the Valley." He said the Valley affiliate, which currently serves 1,600 children in Maricopa County, is the third largest in the nation.

A local board of directors made up of 20 area business and professional people has been established and is holding meetings. The board is out to raise $10,000 through donations to qualify for a matching donation from a Phoenix foundation.

While the projected annual operating budget for the Rim country chapter is estimated to be $46,000, Zimmerman said it can get started with $20,000.

"Then we can open an office and get a director trained to do the case management," he said.

Children from 6 to 14 years of age are eligible for the program.

"But they have to be screened to see it they are really eligible," Zimmerman said. "One parent has to be pretty much out of the picture. Typically a lot more boys than girls end up in the program."

Volunteers are also screened very carefully. "They go through an extensive process that includes fingerprinting," he said. "Then we have to match the volunteer with the child for compatibility things like compatible personalities, mutual interests, and the child's needs. To make it work, we need a pretty good sized bank of volunteers."

Besides passing the screening, volunteers are required to be at least 18 years old, have an Arizona driver's license, and have access to a car with liability insurance.

In addition to one-to-one matching, the Rim country program will offer couple matches, Zimmerman said. "They pair a child with a married couple who participate as a team," he said.

Volunteers are expected to share a few hours every week or every other week with the child, going to Phoenix to a baseball game, playing games, running errands, doing homework, or just watching TV.

With more than 508 agencies serving 200,000 children nationwide, Big Brothers Big Sisters is the world's largest and most effective system of one-to-one mentoring. An independent study conducted in 1995 found that young people in the program are 46 percent less likely to start using drugs, 27 percent less likely to start drinking, 52 percent less likely to skip a day of school, and 33 percent less likely to engage in violent behavior.

In addition to financial and volunteer help, the local board is seeking the donation of office space for the program.

"All we need is an 8-foot-by-12-foot room to set up files and a computer," Zimmerman said.

For more information, call 476-2639.

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