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Finding Family with Big Brothers Big Sisters

One hour could change a life

It only takes an hour. According to Rachel Hill, executive director for Big Brothers Big Sisters of Yellowstone County, “Being a Big is really a simple thing. Everyone always thinks ‘I don’t have enough time; my life is so chaotic.’ But we only ask for an hour a week. You take one hour that you’re not watching Netflix and spend it with a kid, and you’re going to make all sorts of changes in their life.”

Big Brothers Big Sisters is a national nonprofit organization dedicated to helping children grow to their full potential. The program matches adult volunteers with children in need of positive adult role models. Through their supportive, confidence-building interactions, the “Bigs” help their “Littles” thrive in academic and social settings. The Bigs are thoroughly background-checked and interviewed before they join, and any child can participate free of charge.

“It could just be a kid who wants someone to hang out with,” said Rachel, “or it could be a child who needs help with social-emotional skills, behavior problems, or school stuff. We send the pairs out into the community to have all sorts of fun, all sorts of shenanigans.”

For Rachel, who volunteered as a Big during her college years, these shenanigans included geocaching. Other Bigs might take their Littles to the trampoline park or the mini-golf course. Some pairs are content hanging out at home and playing video games.

“It depends on what the kids are interested in,” Rachel said. “We do ask for our Bigs to commit for a minimum of a year, because that’s when we see the most changes happen. If kids aren’t for you, but you still want to support us, we always need help with events and office work.”

As executive director and one of two full-time staff members, Rachel is constantly busy organizing events, arranging matches, and fundraising. Her coworker, Mariah Fredrickson, serves as the School Program Coordinator. Currently, the school program is confined to Laurel, where high school upperclassmen can gain graduation credits by mentoring elementary and middle school students. Mariah and Rachel would like to expand the program to more Yellowstone County schools over the next few years.

“There are five affiliates for Big Brothers Big Sisters in the state,” said Rachel. “Four of them are on the western half, so that means we’ve got everything from Harlowton to North Dakota, from Canada to Wyoming. Because we can’t find enough Bigs to serve the kids we already have here in Billings, we’re having a hard time expanding to any other areas. We have forty kids on our waitlist right now, and seventy-five percent of them are Little Brothers. So we’re definitely pushing for Big Brothers at the moment.”

A Big can make a world of difference in a Little’s life, and the time they spend together often becomes the highlight of their week. Rachel recalled the story of one Little who had to wait to be assigned to a Big Brother for several years.

“He finally got matched this year. Originally, he’d been saving up for a fishing pole, keeping all his chore money and everything. At the last minute, he decided to buy a bike instead, just so he and his Big could go bike riding together,” said Rachel. While Bigs and Littles usually spend time in pairs, the program does offer opportunities for larger community gatherings, like the annual gala. “It’s a fundraiser and award ceremony,” explained Rachel. “A way to say thank you to the community. This year’s theme was ‘Boots and Pearls’—so, basically Montana glam, with a dinner, auctions, and dancing.”

The event, which occurred at the Swift River Ranch in early June, brought together Bigs and Littles from all over the county and raised over $60,000. The memories were priceless. Rachel recalled, “I was talking to a family with several boys in our program, and the kids were looking bored. I was like, ‘You know there’s a dance floor, right?’and these kids just went barreling for the dance floor. It was so cute to watch all these Little Brothers dancing around with each other. It was amazing.”

The gala’s strong attendance and positive results point toward a promising future for the program. Rachel looks forward to hiring college interns to help with marketing, as well as a community coordinator to work more closely with the Bigs. She’s also busy organizing another fundraiser, “Golf FORE Kids’ Sake,” which will occur at Lake Hills golf course on the 13th of this month. “It’s a lot of fun, just golfing all day long,” said Rachel.

If you’re interested in joining Big Brothers Big Sisters in a mentor role—no golf experience necessary—you can apply at bbbsyc.org/big.