By ELLY GRIMM
• Leader & Times
Big Brothers Big Sisters is Kansas’s largest mentoring program, and it also has the distinction of being the second largest mentoring program in the United States. When the need for such a program in Seward, Haskell and Stevens counties came up nearly 15 years ago, opening up an agency was a no-brainer.
The program serves the community throughout the year and serves children from ages 5 to 17 and matches them up with mentors or their ‘bigs.’
“We want to do something for these kids,” Kerry Seibel, the area program director, said. “It’s always a misconception that these kids are bad kids – they’re not bad kids, they’re awesome kids with wonderful personalities – they’re each very near and dear to my heart and they just need a little bit of structure.”
Those in need of a ‘big’ are generally referred to by either Social Rehabilitation Services, St. Francis Community Center or Southwest Guidance Center or area schools. Seibel said people also can refer themselves if they are in need of a ‘big.’
The Big Brothers Big Sisters branch in Liberal generally sees roughly 200 matches between bigs and littles each year. There are currently 27 people on the waiting list to be matched up with a big, most of them boys who are looking for a male mentor. Seibel said this number is actually smaller than usual and that the relationships between those matches can last past 17 years old.
“We get some of them at age five and have them until they graduate from high school – in fact I’m losing two of my matches because the little graduated from high school this year,” she said. “One of my matches has been together for 11 years and again, wonderful relationship, one that will continue beyond the match, probably a lifetime for them.”
Brock Kappelmann, a Liberal resident, has been matched up with three littles over his 12 years with the Big Brothers Big Sisters program. He got interested in the program after the radio station he works at had a program called Junior Sportscaster of the Week. Being the oldest of four siblings, he said he’s always enjoyed teaching kids and helping them.
“It’s very satisfying - it’s about as meaningful program as any we have in the community,” he said. “These kids just want some time and attention and a friend – don’t sell yourself short and be yourself and bring that to the table. Do that and it will be gratifying in the end.”
Kappelmann also said he gained a better understanding of different backgrounds and upbringings while being a part of the program.
“It’s given me the satisfaction of seeing a kid growing up and having successes,” he said. “I gained that appreciation of seeing their successes and seeing them achieve no matter what their circumstances are.”
The Big Brothers Big Sisters program offers a Bigs in Schools program, which Seibel says is popular among high school and college students. With that program, the mentors spend between 30 minutes to an hour with their little either during lunchtime or after school to help with homework.
“Some of these younger kids really look to them to be their mentor because they think they’re really cool,” Seibel said.
Another part of the BIGS in schools program is that the mentors can take their littles out into the community to community events and places like the movie theater, the air museum or the park.
Seibel said that applying to become a mentor is a relatively painless process. Interested applicants can visit the agency, located at 1023 N. Kansas Avenue and they will be given the information they need to make the decision. The applicants then go through five background checks and then after everything is done they are matched with a little.
“It is a huge benefit for both the Bigs and the Littles – I mean, as little as 30 minutes once a week makes a huge difference in a child’s life,” she said. “You want to see them graduate from high school, change their life...and just giving someone the self-confidence they need is a huge benefit.”
“I’ve gone from it from the perspective of a big brother to a little now who’s going through college and another who’s 10 right now,” Kappelmann added. “Seeing those differences really makes me see the value of Big Brothers Big Sisters.”