MARSHALL - Growing up can be difficult for many youth in today's society. That's why the Western Community Action Big Buddies program strives to make a difference for each and every child who comes to them.
On Saturday, a large number of community members responded to that cause in a big way, coming together in support at the 21st annual Big Buddies Bowl-a-Thon at Marshall Bowl.
"I think the day went really, really well," said Allan Bakke, WCA Big Buddies director. "We had 40 teams that were bowling. When you figure we had five people average to a team, that's 200 people who came out to support youth in need."
Photo by Jenny Kirk
Eight members of the Southwest Minnesota Private Industry Council-based “Growing and Going” group showed their support by taking part in the 21st annual Big Buddies Bowl-a-Thon Saturday at Marshall Bowl. The team members include Cindy Monterroso, left, Meaghan Harraghy, Alysia Rupp, Morgan Skinner, Eva Magnuson, Ruweyda Mohamed, Paige Weber and Kassidy Tocco.
The day's goal was set at $15,000. According to Alicia Peterson, Lyon and Lincoln County Big Buddies coordinator; more than $9,000 was collected just in pledges alone.
"It's been awesome," Peterson said. "Everyone's been so supportive of the little buddies in our program. It's been wonderful to see the community come together and support them like that."
Though unofficial, Bakke estimates that this year's event surpassed last year's fundraising total.
"It looks like we at least made what we did last year, but I'm thinking it'll be more," he said.
Bakke pointed out that there are a number of ways people can contribute to the Bowl-a-Thon.
"Businesses will sponsor a lane," he said. "We have 12 different lanes and what they do is make a cash donation towards that. We have others who come out and bowl and they raise pledges, either from their family, friends, co-workers or businesses and they bring that."
A final option is for a business who might have a conflict with the event date. They're able to sponsor a little buddy team who can bowl in their place.
Angela Chesley and her daughter Mikayla both came out to bowl Saturday.
"We're part of the Fields of Grace team," Chesley said. "It was fun."
Bowler Terri Lendt explained that organizers for Fields of Grace were working towards establishing a foster home for at-need children in the Marshall area. The program would be for both boys and girls.
"It's started as a non-profit organization," Lendt said. "We're going to partner with Big Buddies. We're in the process of raising money for it and we're working on two buildings."
Lendt's son, Jackson, 6, also came out to bowl and ended up winning two door prizes.
"He got a basketball and Legos," Lendt said. "They're his two favorite things. Since we're going to be partnering with Big Buddies, we thought we'd come out and support them."
Adding enthusiasm to the Bowl-a-Thon scene were eight teenagers clad in bright pink T-shirts. The girls - Alysia Rupp, Morgan Skinner, Meaghan Harraghy, Cindy Monterroso, Kassidy Tocco, Paige Weber, Ruweyda Mohamed and Eva Magnuson - are members of "Growing and Going," a girl-led entrepreneurship and leadership group from Southwest Minnesota Private Industry Council. Along with SW MN PIC coordinator Hope Torma, they unanimously agreed that the day was a fun one.
The best part, though, organizers said, was that the money raised will benefit Little Buddies. Bakke said funds are used to recruit and train potential mentors, as well as conduct background screening. It also helps to provide curriculum and activities to help the Little Buddies work on five different focus areas, he said.
"We want each kid who comes to the program to be able to increase his or her self-esteem," Bakke said. "They also work on respecting others and building that sense of relationship to everyone else, making appropriate decisions in life, avoiding risky behaviors and doing positive things."
The program also encourages Little Buddies to get involved in the community and try new things.
"The fifth part is expanding their horizons, getting kids involved in things they've never tried before, so they can build their confidence, discover skills and come back to increase their self-esteem," Bakke said.
Growing up is easier with support from caring individuals, organizers said.
"Life is different for the youth growing up now than it was for me," Bakke said. "I had grandmas and grandpas around and we lived in the same community."
Nowadays, Bakke said, a lot of the youth are transplants from somewhere else.
"Their families maybe moved into town a few years ago and their grandmas and grandpas live somewhere else," Bakke said. "They don't have uncles and aunts, all those positive, caring people around them. So, the Big Buddies program helps to increase the amount of positive, caring adults to help them grow up equipped."
The biggest challenge, though, is that there are far more little buddies than there are Big Buddy mentors.
"Right now, we have 54 little buddies and 26 of them have Big Buddies," Peterson said. "That means the rest of them are still waiting."
Little Buddies have to be ages 5-18. Big Buddies are adults 16 years and older. Currently, the oldest Big Buddy is 67.
"She lives to help because her grandchildren don't live around Marshall," Peterson said. "Big Buddies are just another positive influence in a child's life. All they have to do is have a desire to care for a child and to spend time with them."
Big Buddies are asked to commit to spending one year with a little buddy. The union is matched up by program coordinators.
"We match our buddies up based on shared activities and interests," Peterson said. "We have boys and girls still waiting for mentors."
The program also sponsors monthly activities throughout the school year. During the summer, Peterson said, Big Buddies has weekly activities.
"We have small group activities like scrapbooking, archery or a young man's group," she said. "We try to keep our kids busy. And it's good to have them try new things."
While there's no way to know the depths that the program has in reaching children, Bakke said he has been able to measure academic progress in participants.
"We end up measuring lots of things because we want to be able to document whether or not we're being effective," Bakke said. "And, we've found that the youth who are involved in our program for at least nine months show a 1-point increase in their grade point average."
Most kids who come into the Big Buddies program, Bakke said, are "C" students.
"They're just needing a little bit of support and guidance behind them," he said. "And, within nine months, we're able, with the mentors, to be able to move them up to a "B" average. And, longer effects create more impact."
"We're really helping to equip children and youth to navigate the challenges of growing up, so that they're prepared to succeed in life."