Big Brothers Big Sisters organization makes big change

Submitted photoEagleview Sportsman Club presents a check to Big Brothers Big Sisters of Clinton. Big Brothers Big Sisters changed its name to Mentor Clinton County as of Jan. 1.

CLINTON — Big Brothers Big Sisters of Clinton is now Mentor Clinton County, but that's the only immediate change residents will see in the nonprofit organization, said Executive Director Peggy Sellnau.

The organization will continue to be a 501(c)(3) nonprofit funded by donations, grants and fundraisers. It will continue to be governed by a board of directors, and it will continue to provide older mentors for children through its community and school programs, Sellnau said Friday.

"For quite a few years we've also been accredited by the Iowa Mentoring Partnership," Sellnau said.

Big Brothers Big Sisters began in 1904, its website says, when a young New York City court clerk named Ernest Coulter was seeing more and more boys come through his courtroom. He recognized that caring adults could help many of these kids stay out of trouble, and he set out to find volunteers.

At around the same time, the members of a group called Ladies of Charity were befriending girls who had come through the New York Children’s Court. That group would later become Catholic Big Sisters.

The groups worked independently until 1977 when Big Brothers Association and Big Sisters International joined forces and became Big Brothers Big Sisters of America.

Mentor Clinton Clinton will continue to follow the guidelines it adhered to as part of Big Brothers Big Sisters of America, but it will not be affiliated with the national organization due to a large increase in fees to the Big Brothers Big Sisters national office.

Mentor Clinton County's community-based program places children with adult mentors throughout the county, but most of the children are in Clinton or DeWitt, Sellnau said. Mentor applicants must be 18 years old to be part of the community program.

"We average about 20-25 children in the county," Sellnau said. "We work with men or women. We also have some Big Couples – a husband and wife, or two sisters, or two friends."

For the past eight years, Big Brothers Big Sisters of Clinton has offered a school program that allows high school students to mentor younger students at Northeast, Fulton, Easton Valley, and Calamus Wheatland schools.

"Our school programs, especially Northeast and Easton Valley, have been very successful," Sellnau said. She estimates that 50 children take advantage of the program.

"The elementary students have a mentor to visit with them weekly during school. The high school students gain experience in being responsible, using problem-solving skills, developing empathy for others, and gaining an understanding of community service," an MCC press release says.

Applicants for the Mentor program must pass several layers of background checks and a thorough interview process, Sellnau said.

"Child safety is always our number-one concern," she said.

The process also makes the best match possible for the child. Mentors undergo training, Sellnau said, "so they are prepared to be a mentor."

Children who apply for mentors are also screened and interviewed.

"Children under the age of 5 and sometimes, really, 6... they won't go with someone else," Sellnau said.

MCC has to decide if a child will be able to be in a mentoring relationship. No other qualifications are required of the child than that they would benefit from a mentoring relationship, Sellnau said.

Children in the program are usually not from two-parent homes. Often they are from single-parent families or are living with their grandparents, Sellnau said.

"They might have a parent who is incarcerated or in and out of jail," she said. Some have disabilities "and basically just need a friend." Sometimes a child uses the mentoring program to practice social skills.

MCC will continue to receive funding through United Way, donations, grants and fundraising events, Sellnau said. Its next fundraiser is trivia night on Feb. 1 followed by Dueling Pianos at the Wild Rose Casino and Resort on March 29.

The name change took effect Jan.1.

A native of Centerville, Winona comes to the Clinton Herald after writing for the Ottumwa Courier for two years.