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Big Brothers Big Sisters: Mentoring changes lives

Debra McCown Thomas • Apr 8, 2019 at 4:30 PM

When Amanda Hubbard first got involved with Big Brothers Big Sisters, it was after going through a tough time in her life. Looking to move beyond her own struggles, she sought to find purpose and meaning by making a difference in the lives of others.

“I just wanted to make a difference in the life of a child, with my education background,” she says. “Big Brothers Big Sisters gave me the opportunity to do this, but unbeknownst to me, she has made a big difference in my life.”

Hubbard has been a “Big Sister” since 2017 to Nicole, a sassy 11-year-old who she calls the light of her life.

Her “Little Sister” lives with an elderly great-aunt, who isn’t able to do many of the things that young parents do with their children. As the oldest of three, she’s often responsible for caregiving tasks at home; for her, having a Big Sister has given her a chance to experience the fun of childhood.

“When we are together, I like for her to be able to be a kid,” Hubbard says. “We'll go to the park, we play Putt-Putt, we go paint, we go bowl – I just want her to be able to be herself when we’re out together and not have to worry about having to be the little mommy of the family when she is home.”

In addition to spending fun time together a few times a month, Hubbard also attends some of her Little’s school functions and communicates with her teachers, and occasionally helps with homework.

She makes a point to provide opportunities for her to experience new things – like fishing (which it turned out she didn’t like) and Japanese restaurants (which she loved). But the biggest thing is to be there for the Little: to let her know there’s someone who cares, someone to talk to, who she can check in with any time.

Hubbard, who has no biological children, says her relationship as a Big has gone far beyond the one-year commitment required by the organization. Over the last few years, she says, Nicole has become like a part of her family; she spends holidays with them, and they give her birthday parties.

“She’s just a part of our family now,” Hubbard says. “When my mom shops, she calls me and says, ‘Swing by the house. We bought something for Nicole.’ It’s just like a fifth grandchild for my mom.”

Big Brothers Big Sisters is one of the oldest and largest youth mentoring organizations in the United States. It’s based on a simple concept: An adult who takes an interest in being a positive influence in an at-risk child’s life can make a big difference for that child.

“I think a lot of the situations are where the children are being raised by somebody other than mom and dad,” Hubbard says, “so it’s the aunt or the grandparent or the big brother who’s raising that child, who just doesn’t have the time or money or the effort to put into raising that child.”

Even seemingly simple things – like trips to a playground or a public library or out to get a happy meal – can build a meaningful relationship while providing a break from what might be a stressful home life.

You don’t have to be a perfect person to do this; anyone over 18 can be a Big. And right now, the need is significant. With about 80 children on the waiting list, the Big Brothers Big Sisters of East TN’s Greater Tri-Cities branch is looking for more volunteers.

“It’s very fulfilling,” Hubbard says, “You open up a relationship that you wouldn’t have had otherwise with a child, and even though you are making a huge difference in their life, it’s unbelievable the difference they make in yours.”

For more information about how to mentor a child through Big Brothers Big Sisters, you can visit TennesseeBig.org or call (423) 247-3240.

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