Big Brothers Big Sisters of Elkhart County looking for volunteers, plans annual summer picnic

As the organization looks to celebrate its annual summer picnic, Big Brothers Big Sisters of Elkhart County is looking for new volunteers to mentor children.

Posted on July 30, 2014 at 1:59 p.m.

Samantha Crooks spends much of her workday on the phone, eagerly chatting and answering questions.

“It is really more about the best fit for who we match them with,” explained Crooks. “It is not a first come, first served.”

Crooks is now the customer relations specialist with Elkhart’s Big Brothers Big Sisters program. For her, this job didn't start with an application. It began with a Facebook post. 

After graduating from college, Crooks, like many recent grads, was looking for what came next. She decided that she was ready to give back to her community. As Crooks was not affiliated with any church, she decided to consult the social media sphere. After weeding through plenty of “likes” and comments, Crooks decided to look into Big Brothers Big Sisters.

She immediately fell in love with the idea. 

Crooks was soon paired with 10-year-old Victoria ”Tori“ Gamez. The two hit it off immediately and have been close ever since. 

"Anyone who knows me, knows her,” said Crooks. 

The pair usually gets together once a week for a new adventure. They have tackled everything from sporting events to river cleanup projects. Anytime they get together, they always make sure to go out to eat with one rule: it has to be somewhere new. Crooks laughs that after three years of being Tori’s “Big” or mentor, they are starting to run low on new eatery options.

Big Awards

Big Brothers Big Sisters of Elkhart County will have its annual summer picnic from 1 to 3 p.m. Sunday, Aug. 3, at Ideal Beach. 

At the event, the 2014 “Bigs of the Year” awards will recognize four volunteers as Big Brother of the Year, Big Sister of the Year, Rookie Big Brother of the Year and Rookie Big Sister of the Year. 

“All the work that we facilitate as an agency happens through the passionate dedication of our volunteers,” Stephanie Patka, executive director, said in a press release. 

“We appreciate any opportunity we have to publicly say thank you for mentoring children as a Big Brother or Big Sister.”

The two always made sure to attend the events put on by Big Brothers Big Sisters. Networking with other volunteers and leaders at these events are what lead Crooks to make the jump from volunteer to full time employee. She still functions as Tori’s “big.” 

“The outings gives (Tori) a chance for her to do things that she might not have ever done,” said Crooks.  “And things that I may have never done before ... I get as much out of it as she does. It keeps me in line and focused just as it does her.”

Tori is now on the honor roll and plans to go to medical school some day. She will be the first in her family to attend college. 

Crooks notes that volunteers don't need to take their little brothers or sisters to anything expensive or extravagant. Big Brothers Big Sisters is looking for volunteers who are reliable and can commit for at least a year. 

According to Crooks, the flexibility with the time is what made her able to volunteer in the first place. The time commitment is a few hours once a week or every other week. The time and day of meeting is dependent of the personal schedules of the “big” or “little.”

Big Brothers Big Sisters has 133 kids who are waiting to be paired up with an adult. While they are looking for volunteers from all over the area for the general program, BBBS is also looking specifically for men who either live or work in Goshen. The Amigo Center is teaming up with the program and Goshen Community Schools to provide middle school boys with mentors and training for their time in sixth through eighth grade.

Each mentor works with the same child for all three years, thus with every new batch of sixth graders, 18 more volunteers are needed for the program.

The mentors and mentees will do everything from bicycle repair to baking cookies to winter wilderness survival. The group also attends a camping trip each summer. Male teachers and administrators who work at Goshen Middle School are invited to attend and build. The goal is to build relationships before the school year even begins.

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