Big Brothers Big Sisters joins forces with 4-H

BY SARAH BULMER | MARCH 04, 2011 7:20 AM

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The clock ticked Thursday as Heather Newman carefully placed the final five cans of soda on top of an inverted pyramid of paper plates.

Newman’s “little sister” — 13-year-old Derricka Outlaw — watched in anticipation.

The game, known as “chandelier,” was one of several participants played during a kickoff event Thursday at the Johnson County Fairgrounds, beginning a newly created relationship between 4-H and Big Brothers Big Sisters.

“It’s nice to have a nonthreatening environment in which you can build a connection with everybody,” Newman said about Big Brothers Big Sisters of Johnson County. “We’re like a big family.”

The family is growing with the new partnership, a product of increased federal funding.

The U.S. Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention recently pledged $5 million in an effort to support youth-mentoring programs nationwide. Iowa’s 4-H organization garnered $61,000 of that funding and is sharing it with Big Brothers Big Sisters.

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The funds will allow the two organizations — which share office space at the Fairgrounds — to more frequently host events similar Thursday’s joint kickoff, said Janet Martin, an Urban 4-H youth specialist. The two groups plan to hold joint events twice a month during the school year and once a week during June and July, she said.

“I’m pretty pumped about it,” said Robin Hoffman, who coordinates the workshops between Big Brothers Big Sisters and 4-H.

Big Brothers Big Sisters began as an Urban 4-H initiative more than 30 years ago, Martin said. The program pairs children with mentors in one-to-one relationships.

“Having a one-on-one mentor [is positive] because they have a role model right there,” Hoffman said. “It’s also great because it allows them an opportunity they might not have had.”

On Thursday, volunteers and children took part in various Minute to Win It-style activities. They laughed and joked, playing games such as Floatacious, in which players had to stack as many soda cans on a single paper plate while keeping the tower balanced on water. Another game, Mega Bubble, required players to blow bubbles through a hula hoop before they popped.

Jill Kromminga, the program director of Big Brothers Big Sisters of Johnson County, said the matches often create lasting friendships.

“There is a range of relationships, but many relationships are very much like siblings,” said Kromminga. “They consider themselves family even though they are not technically related.”

University of Iowa sophomore Ryan Bell, a volunteer at Big Brothers Big Sisters, said he frequently plays mini-golf, catch, or goes bowling with his “little brother.”

“I like helping people one-on-one and making connections with kids,” Bell said.

Children who participate in the program improve their self-confidence by 83 percent and their school performance by 57 percent, according to Big Brothers Big Sisters.

They seem to enjoy the connection, too.

“I can talk to her about anything,” Derricka said about Newman. “We bake together, and we have fun.”

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