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Stepping Up in a Big Way

PEOPLE FROM ALL WALKS OF LIFE ARE PITCHING IN TO HELP

Article by Sue Baldani

Photography by Provided

When Eric Maydew was in college, he became a Big Brother. It was such a positive

experience that when he saw the open position for Area Director for Kansas Big Brothers Big

Sisters of Shawnee County seven years ago, he knew he wanted to be the one to fill it. He’s

still in the role today, and finds it very rewarding to continue to help children live better lives.


Big Brothers Big Sisters matches youth facing adversity with a caring adult mentor in a one-

to-one mentoring relationship. “For the Bigs, they always get more out of it than they

anticipate, and for the Littles, it helps them believe that anything is possible by giving them

confidence and increasing their self-esteem,” he says.


The organization puts a lot of time and effort into creating what’s called a “best-fit match.”

For example, if a child wants to become a lawyer, they try to match him or her with a Big

who is in law. “We take interests from both volunteer and child and try to align them the best

we can,” says Eric. “Obviously, the better aligned we can get, the more likely it is for that

relationship to last long term.”

While the commitment requested is one year, many of the matches go way beyond that. “At

the moment, our average match length in Topeka and Shawnee County is roughly 36 months,

but we have matches that have been together 10 years. We also have some alumni matches

that have hit their 25 year mark and others that are upwards of 40 years.”

While the organization asks volunteers to meet with their Littles two to four times a month,

many meet on a much more frequent basis. They build their own schedules and do things that

they both enjoy. That may be going to the movies, shopping, going out to eat, bowling, and

helping with homework.


Volunteers are of all ages and backgrounds. “We have Bigs from 18 to 75 years of age, and in

some cases even older than that,” he says. “They could be business people, a mom or dad,


a grandparent, or a college student. We also offer couples and family matches, so it doesn't

necessarily have to be one-to-one. We have a lot of married couples that have kids who just

kind of weave their Little into their family and that works really well.”


For many of these youth, having someone to spend time with and listen to them is a true gift.

“A good majority of our kids, roughly 80 percent, come from single-parent backgrounds, and

there are often multiple kids in the home,” says Eric. “So, getting one-to-one time can be

difficult. Often, they have antisocial behaviors and don't necessarily thrive in group settings.

These one-to-one relationships really help them kind of find who they are, and have

somebody reliable who will show up and be there for them.”


Parents, guardians and schools usually refer children, ages 5 to 17, to the program. “It’s

usually based on some type of struggle the children are having, whether it be at school or in

their day-to-day lives. They'll recognize that these kids need a little extra something in their

lives and they’ll think of us.”


In order to provide these much-needed services, funding is always critical. While Kansas Big

Brothers Big Sisters of Shawnee County holds fundraisers and happily takes donations,

there’s also an opportunity for others outside of the organization to raise money. For Kids’

Sake, formerly known as Bowl For Kids’ Sake, is one vehicle to help do this.

“It's an annual fundraiser and you'll find it not just in our affiliate, but across the nation,”

says Eric. “We're headquartered in Wichita and they do a pretty big campaign every year that

goes northward of $300,000. For Kids’ Sake is a peer-to-peer fundraiser and is not only one

of our long-standing fundraisers, but one of our largest referral sources in terms of kids as

well.”


In June, the nonprofit will also be doing its Just-a-Buck campaign. “We do that with WIBW

here in Topeka,” he says. “We have $25,000 in matching money, and during the month of

June, we ask the entire community for just a buck at a time until we reach that $25,000 goal.

If we reach it, then we’ll have raised $50,000 for kids here in our county.”


All of the money goes directly back to programming and helps support everything from

background checks and making new matches to enrolling youth and volunteers.


To become a Big Brother or Big Sister, apply online. The only requirements are to be aged 18

or older, undergo a background check, and most importantly, have the time and love to give a

child in need.


“Being a Big is a lot simpler than most people think,” says Eric. “We kind of live in that fear

of ‘Will I let somebody down?’ But if you can find a way to look past that and just do it, it's

more rewarding than you would ever believe.”


KansasBigs.org

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