Mary Ellen Bell has written an inspiring and enlightening story for our cover this week. It's called "Just Like Family," but it's about so much more than that title implies. It is, indeed, about inspiring and enlightening, and how that process can be a two-way street.
The topic of her story is the Big Brothers Big Sisters process as it plays out in the Madison area. For the uninitiated, Big Brothers Big Sisters is both an agency and a movement. It unites adults interested in involving themselves in the life of a young person, and young people looking, or encouraged to look by an overstretched parent or guardian, to expand their world beyond what limiting circumstances allow.
Bell recounts the stories of several relationships between "Bigs," the adults looking to be involved, and "Littles," those they are intending to aid. And what the stories reveal is that there is as much to be gained as given, on both sides. Nationally, the program received some great exposure from being one of the four charities promoted at the recent NBA all-star game.
It all started in 1904 when a New York City night court clerk, concerned with the number of young boys coming through the system, started the Big Brother mentoring program. At around the same time a group called the Ladies of Charity (later to be known as the Catholic Big Sisters) organized to do the same thing for young girls in the court system. The two organizations developed in parallel and spread nationwide. They formally merged in 1977.
Locally, as Bell states in her story, the BBBS on Atwood Avenue is always looking for more mentors, as the Bigs are properly referred to. If the concepts and activities described in the story stir a bit of interest in you, you can learn more from the Big Brothers Big Sisters website.