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Golden Tiger BIGS continues making difference

When Golden Tiger BIGS began in the Russellville City Schools system three years ago, there was a simple goal of helping children. This month the program is celebrating National Mentor Month by looking back on the program and how it has grown.

Golden Tiger BIGS, a partner of Big Brothers Big Sisters of the Shoals, has 20 matched big-little pairs and is growing. Through the program, “bigs” and “littles” will spend 45 minutes together once a week on campus.

“Even though some students might do their homework during it, it’s not a tutoring program. We want it to really focus around relationships,” said Golden Tiger BIGS coordinator Carole Fowler. “It helps these kids to set goals and come out of their shells. Some of these kids have grown so much just in the time they have been in the program.”

Littles are younger students, beginning at kindergarten, with the bigs being volunteers ages 15 and older. Since high schoolers are only able to work with elementary students, there is a growing need for community volunteers.

One community volunteer in the program is State Farm agent Lee Nickels, who recently celebrated his one-year anniversary of being matched with his little, Aiden.

“Hopefully it’s something he enjoys doing because I enjoy spending time with him,” Nickels said. “It’s always good to be able to mentor someone who is younger than you and to be able to be that person he can hopefully look up to – and be a good example for him.

“It’s good for them to know there is someone who is there for them and who cares about them.”

To become a big, volunteers have to submit an application, submit references and pass a background check before going through an interview process. Once in the program, volunteers are asked what ages they prefer to work with as well as their hobbies and interests.

Fowler said this allows matches to be made based off similar interests, pairing those who would be most likely to work well together.

Fowler said just because there are bigs and littles available does not mean these individuals are automatically matches.

“Matching a student isn’t as simple as saying ‘Here is one, and here is one, so let’s put those together,’” Fowler said. “We want to make sure these matches are good fits to give them the best chance of success.”

Fowler said it is great to see the relationships formed between bigs and littles. She said she even has some high school graduates who have continued to mentor their little even after they graduated.

Nickels said although the majority of his time with his little is spent playing board games or playing outside, this all adds up to so much more.

“Each time you are with them, they learn something,” Nickels said. “Hopefully the things I am able to teach him, he gets something from.”

Fowler said her goal is to have 28 matches by the end of the school year.

For more information on Golden Tiger BIGS or to apply to become a volunteer, call 256-331-3047 or e-mail carole.fowler@rcs.k12.al.us.