Features: June/July 2010~ On a chilly, rainy afternoon in May, two young Iowa City women searched downtown and the pedestrian mall for a place to get a cheap manicure.
It’s a normal thing for two young women to do–especially in a college town–but for Kelsey Godwin, 22, and Wakemia,12, it’s a chance to get to know each other a little better.
Wakemia has been a Little Sister with the Big Brothers Big Sisters program since she was 11. She had been the underling of another college woman, until she moved away. She has been Godwin’s “little sister” for five months.
“It’s fun,” Wakemia said. “We get to spend time together and talk and do fun things.”
“Sometimes we have meetings and get together and meet with other kids in the program,” Wakemia said. “A lot of them [little sisters and brothers] go to my school.”
Fun may or may not have been the word for spending the day walking in the rain for a manicure, but Wakemia enjoys the time she has with Godwin, who, despite being 10 years her senior, does her best to find things for the pair to do.
Sometimes it’s window shopping at the mall, other times it’s the library. When weather permits, time in the park works, or looking at puppies at the pet store.
“I tell everyone who asks me about it that I get just as much out of it as Wakemia does,” Godwin said. “Just being able to give back is what’s most important to me.”
According to the Big Brothers Big Sisters of Johnson County website, improvements like self-confidence, ability to avoid substance abuse and school performance are among the biggest benefits for people involved in the program.
Scott Hansen, executive director of Big Brothers Big Sisters Johnson County said the Johnson County chapter began in 1976, while the national organization has existed for over 100 years.
But now more than ever, there’s a growing list of kids needing a big brother or sister.
“We have a long list of kids,” Hansen said. “We’re always looking for volunteers.”
Hansen said big brothers are in need right now, as there is a waiting list for boys throughout Johnson County.
One young program that’s great for the summer months and the boys on the waiting list is Sports Buddies, which is the chance for men and women big brothers and sisters to hang out with potential little brothers by taking them to sporting events or participating in athletic activities.
“It’s great in the summer with things like Frisbee golf, soccer, kickball and softball,” Hansen said.
Sports Buddies receive discounts at local businesses like Play It Again Sports in Iowa City, or free batting practice at Diamond Dreams indoor batting cages.
“You can take your Little Brother there and set up an appointment,” Hansen said. “I’ve done that with my little brother. Great for the wintertime because you’re indoors.”
On June 4, Big Brothers Big Sisters of Johnson County will have a display in the lobby of the Washington Street U.S. Bank, with a poster of successful and long-term matches made by the organization.
“It’s a poster showing photos of all the people we’ve matched, with quotes about their experience,” Hansen said. “It just shows you that anyone can be a part of it–young, old, male, female.”
Big brothers big sisters also get into University of Iowa events for free, particularly volleyball, soccer and field hockey events.
One of Godwin’s favorite events are the BLTs–the Big Little Talks, scheduled throughout the year as another bonding chance for bigs to catch up and talk with their littles. The next BLT meeting is scheduled for July 13.
Volunteers for Big Brothers Big Sisters must be at least 18 years old, and children who want to participate as little brothers and sisters must be under 18. Hansen encourages anyone interested in participating to contact the Johnson County office to set up an interview.
Godwin, a senior in American Studies at The University of Iowa, said she hopes to stay involved with the organization and with Wakemia as long as she can.
“I got the chance to coach softball about three years ago, and being able to teach young kids something and being a part to shape their lives is amazing,” Godwin said. “I decided to get involved [in Big Brothers Big Sisters].”
Now, Godwin–a little sister herself with two older sisters–has the chance to be a big sister, and spends her time talking with Wakemia. On Valentine’s Day, the pair baked cupcakes for Wakemia’s mother.
“She loves school, which is cool because I’m a nerd, too,” Godwin said.
Godwin said Big Brothers Big Sisters is currently shorthanded for volunteers and encourages anyone, especially college students, to find time to get involved.
What Godwin finds most important, particularly from the experience of being a real-life little sister, is the need for Wakemia to have someone to confide in. Though Wakemia is close to her mom, Godwin said “it’s a different kind of bond” that’s formed between sisters.
“She doesn’t have a big sister she can talk to and confide in,” Godwin said. “I’m hoping one day she develops a trust with me so I can be that person for her.”
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