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PHOTO BY LAUREN WESTER Carole Fowler is working to get the Golden Tiger Bigs mentor program rolling this fall. She said she hopes to have the first matches within a couple of weeks.

RCS mentor program makes strides

A new volunteer opportunity is now available to Russellville High School students and adult community members: the Golden Tiger Bigs Program.

Earlier this year the mentoring program was announced, with the expected launch date for fall 2017. Well, it’s fall, and the program is up and running under the leadership of Carole Fowler.

Fowler worked at RHS for 22 years with at-risk students and then in the attendance office before retiring from the school system in May 2017. She received the job offer to be the school-based mentoring coordinator for RCS almost immediately after her retirement was finalized.

“It came at the perfect time. I just had to wait for God’s plan,” she said.

The program is a partnership with Big Brothers Big Sisters of the Shoals and is funded by The Children’s Trust Fund through the Alabama Department of Child Abuse and Neglect Prevention.

“We wanted someone who was passionate about kids and the school system, and Carole is just the perfect fit,” said Gina Mashburn from BBBS of the Shoals.

Fowler said to become a mentor, or “Big,” RCS students must be at least 15 years old. They will fill out an application form, get their parent or guardian’s approval, provide at least three references and be interviewed by Fowler.

“There has been a big response from the students who I’ve spoken to so far,” she said.

For community members to become mentors, they must be 19 or older, fill out the application form, provide references, agree to a criminal and DHR background check and be interviewed by Fowler.

“We want to make sure we provide the safest environment and mentors for these children as possible,” Fowler said.

To contribute to that safety, she said each mentor will also receive mandatory reporting training for child abuse and neglect. The training will be online, and Fowler will also review the material and procedures with the mentors herself.

As for the mentees, or “Littles,” Fowler said the program serves K-12 students in the RCS system. Parents or guardians, teachers, counselors, resource officers and others can refer students for the program.

“The purpose of the program is to help these children develop good relationships and enjoy school more and have a good role model to look up to,” Fowler said.

That is one reason Fowler conducts the interviews and talks with the mentees before matching them. She said she wants to pair Bigs and Littles together based on their interests, to provide the best possible experience for participants.

Fowler said she hopes to have the first matches completed in the next couple of weeks or possibly even sooner.

“If any parent thinks their child could use a mentor at school, whether it’s for school work, self-esteem support or they just need a buddy, they should consider the program,” Mashburn said.