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  Inside Out - West: Monday June 2, 2003

BIG BROTHERS AND SISTERS

Jenny and Carla painting
Volunteer mentors become role models for children in Bristol

Love them or loathe them, siblings can provide support and advice along with the occasional Chinese burn! Now many youngsters are getting the chance to spend time with a big brother or sister guaranteed not to steal your CDs.

Big Brothers and Sisters, is a charitable organisation which matches up volunteer mentors to children from single parent families.

The idea which originated in the USA, is now popular with many families in Bristol.

The perfect match

Twenty two year old Jenny is a volunteer mentor and provides an ideal role model for 12 year old Carla, an only child.

Jenny and Carla feeding the ducks
Jenny is big sister to 12 year old Carla

For Jenny, the weekly outings are not only rewarding but a great way to recapture her youth.

"She reminds me of when I was 12," explains Jenny. "It just takes me back, gives me the chance to be 12 again."

Mentoring not only provides support for the child, but for the parent too. Jenny's presence has improved Carla's relationship with her mum by relieving some of the pressure.

A helping hand

Single mother of two, Caroline Yates would be the first to agree that the extra support provided by a mentor is a valuable contribution to family life.

Mentor John provides a great role model for Caroline's 13 year old son Dan.

And Dan couldn't be happier.

"I talk to men more than I do women," says Dan. "So if I had problems, I'd probably go to him (John) instead of mum."

DO YOU HAVE WHAT IT TAKES?

If you are considering becoming a big brother or sister, then here are some things to consider.

You need to be able to give one day a week, every week

You need to be flexible

You must be non-judgmental

You need to be fairly laid back

You must be willing to have fun and give anything a go

An older sibling

Providing a confidant to the child is only one part of the mentoring process and John insists that most of their time is spent having fun.

This is something that Big Brothers and Sisters organiser Sarah Hendrick, is keen to emphasise.

"We're not trying to replace the other parent," says. "It's not like giving the child another teacher, because that's probably the last thing they need."

"It's not like a social worker, it's not like a psychologist," she continues. "It's giving somebody who is in effect, like an older sibling.

Support for mentors

Recruiting men has proved particularly difficult with the current media attention surrounding paedophilia.

Sarah is quick to dispel this. Prospective brothers and sisters go through a rigorous screening process and matching a mentor to a child is a process that can take months.

Support is available for mentors too. Big brother and sister volunteers get together once a month to share ideas.

The scheme is proving a great success and the rewards are shared not only by the parent and child, but by the mentor too.

Jenny says, "It's knowing that I'm making a difference in another family that needs help."

See also ...

On bbc.co.uk
BBC: Teens
BBC: One Life
Big Brothers and Sisters

On the rest of the web
International
Big Brothers and Sisters UK

The BBC is not responsible for the content of external websites

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