The Clinton Herald, Clinton, Iowa

November 18, 2013

Big Brothers Big Sisters creates long-lasting ties

By Samantha Pidde
Herald Staff Writer

CLINTON — Anyone watching Jodi Specht and Stephanie Nohai, 14, as they chat and tease each other can tell they share a special bond.

The duo have been spending time together each week for the past eight years as part of the Big Brothers Big Sisters program.

Nohai’s mother works nights and her youngest sibling is 5 years older than her.  Her mother signed her up for the Big Brothers Big Sisters program when she was 6.

“I think that my mom felt that I was lonely,” Nohai said.

Clinton’s Big Brothers Big Sisters program started in 1982. Executive Director Kellie Hillis said the organization hosts both a community-based and a school program. The program typically has 70 to 80 matches during the school year and 40 to 50 when school is out.

“Everyone wants children to succeed,” Hillis said.

She said the program focuses on helping children graduate from high school, move onto further education or better-paying jobs and decrease criminal activity. Hillis is noticing an increase in the amount of children on waiting lists for the program. Currently 18 children are on the list, with another 10 going through the application process.

Jodi Specht does not have any children of her own and wanted to share her time. Eight years ago she decided to be a big sister.

“I wanted someone to do the fun things with,” Specht said. “ I think she keeps me young and we have fun.”

Throughout the years, the pair have watched Disney movies together, roller skated, shopped, scrapbooked and just hung out. At least once a week, they meet, going out to dinner and just have fun. Specht is currently helping Nohai practice her driving.

“It started out that I would make the decisions and now I make her choose,” Specht said.

As a first-grade teacher, Specht also helps Nohai with her homework, especially math. Nohai said her big sister helps her a great deal.

“Every time we go out to eat, it’s ‘do you have any homework,’” Nohai said.

Hillis said the program always needs more volunteers. This weekend, two fund-raising events will be held to support the program and its activities.

In conjunction with Ashford Heroes, an annual breakfast with Santa will be held between 8 and 11 a.m. Saturday at the Ashford University Online Center on Mill Creek Parkway. The event will feature Santa, games and crafts, as well as food. Hillis said approximately 450 people attended it last year.

That same day, The organization is hosting its annual Dueling Pianos event, featuring the Midwest Dueling Pianos, from 6 to 10 p.m. at Rastrelli’s Tuscany Events Center. For $50, a person is entitled to an all-you-can-eat buffet, including sirloin, chicken, pork loin and more.

A silent auction will include a variety of items, such as signed music and movie memorabilia and vacation packages. Participants can bid on a Beatles record, a Star Wars poster signed by a majority of the cast and more.

“Everybody who attends has a great time, a real fun time,” Hillis said.

Anyone interested in the event or in volunteering or donating to the cause may call 243-4423.