Cleveland County’s Big Brothers Big Sisters of America is in need of more little sisters and big brothers.
Area director Jeff Moody, who has been with the local chapter since March 2020, said more women than men have volunteered with the organization, which pairs adult mentors with children.
The chapter has 80 littles waiting to be matched, 66 of whom are boys.
Moody said the trend of lower male volunteer numbers isn’t a new problem and is happening statewide, with 320 total little brothers and sisters ages 6-16 in Oklahoma waiting for matches.
Moody said the numbers of littles needing matches right now is high because the nonprofit is trying to bounce back from the COVID-19 pandemic, which led to a lower number of new volunteers during uncertain times.
Currently, Moody said Norman’s BBBS has matched 161 volunteers with littles.
Moody said BBBS seeks to ignite potential in children in Norman who are missing a pillar of support or who need help with socialization. Norman’s chapter has been active 53 years, and BBBS has been around nationally for over 100 years.
“By giving them this consistent role model in their life, we let them see that … their future can be whatever they want it to be,” he said.
Volunteers and littles are asked for a one-year commitment, and volunteers can meet with their little for one hour a week or arrange another consistent schedule. After a year, Moody said the matches are reassessed, and “nine times out of 10,” the matched pairs will stay together due to strong bonds.
Moody said BBBS has had retirees and those ages 75 or older volunteer too.
Moody said children and parents who could benefit from BBBS should look at the program as additional support.
“I think with what we’ve all been through in the past couple years, all of us could use a little extra support,” he said.
Regarding the need for men volunteers, Moody said the program is seeking to break the cycles of incarceration and drug use by providing role models for children in need. That goal can be met by volunteers just hanging out with a kid and providing consistency.
“It’s not a whole lot of work. It’s showing that you care,” he said. “It’s definitely worth it. Please sign up.”
Moody said he has seen his little brother James grow in self esteem over the four months they have been together.
Program staff Elliott Springer and Stephanie Khouri provide matches and match support for BBBS. Matches are made based on common interests, hobbies and other factors.
Volunteers must be age 18 or older and go through a background check to ensure they haven’t committed violent crimes or any crimes involving children. Staff also call personal references.
Moody stressed that child safety is the most important, and program staff monitor new matches monthly during the first year by checking with volunteers, littles and their parents or guardians to ensure safety.
If volunteers have any concerns about a child’s safety or behavior, they can also talk to staff and receive resources.
Moody called his match support staff the real heroes of the organization.
“My staff is really easy to work with, and they work really hard. They really care about this organization, and that’s priceless,” he said.
Moody said children are referred by community members or through schools.
Trenton Brown, a VisitNorman sales manager who has been a volunteer for two years, has been with his current little brother, age 12, since late last year.
They enjoy going to HeyDay and playing arcade games, playing corn hole and putt putt, going to a trampoline park in Moore, doing ropes courses and driving go karts.
He said participating in BBBS is a great way to get involved in the community, and it isnt a big time constraint.
“You can shift it to fit your schedule, so it’s not really a huge time commitment. However much hands-on that your little needs, make it fit both what your little wants and what they need,” he said.
He said one of his roles as a big brother is to serve as a sounding board and be an ally in times of need. He anticipates continuing participation in BBBS.
Brown said while he’s the mentor, he has also learned from his little brother. He encouraged those sitting on the fence to apply.
“You go into it thinking that you’re going to be the mentor and you turn into the mentoree. I’m so fortunate, because my little is so sweet. He just goes above and beyond for his own and family and his sister,” he said.
David Sitzman owns the Dump Truck food truck owner in Norman, and has been a volunteer for almost two years. Sitzman said he has been with his current little brother David, 14, for about 13 months.
They watch movies, go out to eat, bowl, play laser tag, foosball and arcade games, visit libraries, cook and hang out together. He said they hang out two to three times a month.
“It’s been rewarding for me in that I can be a positive role model or mentor for somebody who may not have that in their life or may not have it consistently. For him, I just try to be there when he needs me to,” Sitzman said. “Just being able to be that positive figure in someone’s life is pretty rewarding.”
Sitzman said the connection he has made with his little has been equally as rewarding. He encouraged more men to apply.
“It’s something that I think will stick with you forever, and after they age out, you might find that you’ve made a life-long friend, or just someone that you can have a real impact on,” he said.
Sitzman said being a big brother has given him more self confidence in his ability to be a positive role model to someone, and he has learned to read nonverbal cues.
He said he has also built relationships with other volunteers and staff in the program.
He sometimes wears his BBBS shirt while working on his food truck and has had good conversations with others about volunteering, he said. He also has taken his food truck out to some BBBS events.
In addition to individual activities, he said BBBS offers match activities every other month, including game night in the new game room at 502 E. Main St., graduation and back-to-school bashes, Easter egg hunts, a haunted house, Bigs -giving, musical chairs and other games.
Moody said he hopes to continue growing BBBS so it can provide support for all children in the area who need it.
“We want to be able to support them and give them the self esteem they need to help conquer the world,” Moody said.
For more information or to apply, visit bigoklahoma.org.