MEIGS COUNTY — For the past 30-plus years, Big Brothers Big Sisters has served Athens County, expanding outward into the region over that time. Now, a name change is reflecting the broader region served as the agency works to serve those in Meigs, Washington, and Vinton counties, in addition to Athens.
Executive Director Jim Salzman explained that the agency is working with the Meigs County Department of Job and Family Services to serve children in Meigs County through the program which will soon be known as Southeast Ohio Youth Mentoring (SEOYM).
Salzman explained that the name change, which has been submitted to the Ohio Secretary of State’s Office, comes at a time when the local agency, as well as others across the state and county, are disassociating from the national agency as new requirements were being put in place. He explained that by January 2019, the local office would have been required to bring in $200,000 per year and have three full-time equivalent employees, something not feasible for the local program. The change will also allow for all money raised by and contributed to the agency to remain local.
The name change could have other positive impacts as the agency works to serve more than just Athens County.
“It is hard to recruit and fundraise with Athens in the title,” said Salzman, adding that he hopes the new SEOYM title will help the program to grow in the surrounding areas.
The focus of the program will remain the same with the name change — “Making a difference in the lives of children and families in SE Ohio.” This includes helping children reduce risk-taking behaviors; supporting them in improving educational outcomes; finding and supporting meaningful relationships; and providing role models to at-risk youths.
Since its beginning, the program has worked to match at-risk youth ages 5-17 with dedicated adult mentors.
While people may be familiar with the traditional program which matches a “Big” with a “Little” there is also the site based program in the schools.
Currently, Salzman stated there is a site based program which involves Vinton County High School and Central Elementary School with the high school students serving as mentors to the elementary students.
There are two obstacles to the school based programs which Salzman stated is something they are working to overcome. First, there is the need for someone to oversee the programs (Salzman is the lone full-time employee of the program with one part-time person in Washington County). Secondly, the distance between the schools can be an issue. He noted the distance issue may not be a concern with places such as Southern or Eastern should there be interest in programs at those location in the future.
One of the focuses of Salzman has been the expansion of services beyond Athens County, which is where the Meigs County DJFS partnership comes in.
Salzman credited DJFS Director Chris Shank with the willingness to work together and provide support for the program in the county.
There are currently four children registered in Meigs County for the program, with only one of those having been matched to a “Big.”
“We need good role models who can give kids an hour a week,” said Salzman of the need for volunteers to take part in the program.
The requirements to be a “Big” are simple — have a clean background, reliable transportation and a desire to be a positive influence on children.
“Volunteers come in all shapes and sizes,” said Salzman.
Mentors are asked for a one year commitment, which provides for consistency for the children served. While the commitment begins at an hour a week, many of the relationships formed carry on long after the child has aged out of the program.
In addition to the one-on-one time, there are group events and activities which are planned to bring groups of Bigs and Littles together. Some of the recent events have been pool parties, bowling, rollerskating and an end of summer bash.
Those interested in becoming involved in the program may call 740-797-0037 or email Jim at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Sarah Hawley is the managing editor of The Daily Sentinel.