By Josh Sabrowsky
For the Enterprise
Anton Bogdan likes to think what it would be like in his “Little Brother’s” shoes. Nine-year-old Mitchell of Everett has lived his whole life without knowing his father.
Bogdan, 23, doesn’t believe he can fill this void. Instead he makes it a priority simply to be there for Mitchell.
“You want to be a friend and not a parent,” said Bogdan, who is now in his second year as a Big Brother in Snohomish County.
There is a countywide shortage of “Bigs,” according to Big Brothers Big Sisters of Snohomish County. Children who are in desperate need of positive influences remain on waiting-lists across the county and nation. The organization is calling for more people like Bogdan to help out.
“Snohomish County has nearly 200 children on a waiting list for a Big Brother or Big Sister,” said Rona Besterman, coordinator of South Snohomish County’s program. Nearly two-thirds of those children are boys. Approximately 35 total unmatched Little Brothers and Little Sisters live in Lynnwood, Mountlake Terrace, Edmonds and Mill Creek
“There are two ways to get involved, either in a school-based mentoring program or a community-based one,” said Besterman.
Mentors in the school-based program meet once a week with their Little Brother or Sister on-campus during their lunch or recess.
Eric Davison, 24, of Lynnwood meets up with Timmy during his lunch at Mountlake Terrace Elementary.
“I just wanted to have a positive impact on a child,” said Eric, “but I’ve had a great time hanging out with Timmy. It’s really refreshing to be a Big Brother.”
The shortage of Big Brothers and Big Sisters is a nationwide phenomenon. More than 15 million children across the country are without Bigs.
“We’re launching a few new programs within the year to help with the shortage,” said Besterman. An after-school program will debut this fall.
The shortage has not extinguished the program’s ambition in Snohomish County, however. The organization hopes to nearly double its school-based matches from 157 to 300 by the end of next year. The community-based program hopes to increase their total matches from 366 to 400 as well.
Typically Little Brothers and Little Sisters live in single-parent households. Parents who feel their child is in need of an additional adult influence can contact Big Brothers Big Sisters and the organization will seek a match. For Mitchell, this is how he met Bogdan. Teachers can also recommend Little Brothers and Little Sisters to the organization for the school-based program.
For Big Brothers Big Sisters, volunteers committ to one hour per week in the school-based program and two to four times a month for two to four hours in the community-based program. The registration process involves a reference and background check along with a three-hour training session. The process takes about two weeks, according to Besterman.
“We’re not asking for experts or psychologists, just people who can devote a little bit of time to a child and build a friendship,” she added. The program recommends Bigs to be at least 21 years old, but those in high school may volunteer for lunch-buddy programs.
“Just being there makes a difference,” said Bogdan, who is a community-based Big Brother. “You get to be a kid again and have tons of fun, along with having a positive influence on a child. I will never regret this experience.”
Josh Sabrowsky is a student in the University of Washington Department of Communication News Laboratory.