As the 3rd Heavy Brigade Combat Team gears up for another deployment this fall, its fourth in six years, the Columbus chapter of the mentorship program Big Brothers Big Sisters is focusing its efforts — and some newly available grant money — on the military community.
Supported by part of a multi-million dollar appropriation from the Dallas-based T. Boone Pickens Foundation, Big Brothers Big Sisters of Chattahoochee Valley now provides mentoring services specifically for children of deployed military personnel.
The grant, which will pay out $3 million over five years, was offered to all agencies serving in and around military communities nationwide. Sally Gowins, special programs and volunteer recruitment coordinator for Big Brothers Big Sisters of Chattahoochee Valley, said the organization applied for the money with the 3rd Heavy Brigade Combat Team in mind and was one of just 24 national chapters to receive this gift. There are currently about 400 Big Brothers Big Sisters agencies nationwide.
The grant will enable Big Brothers Big Sisters to more than quadruple the number of children of deployed military personnel served by its agencies, according to a news release from Big Brothers Big Sisters of America.
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An effort is already being made locally to promote program benefits to unit commanders and military families, Gowins said.
“We’re looking at 4,000 troops deploying again and over 60 percent of the troops are married now,” Gowins said. “So, we’re looking at a majority of them being married, probably most of them having children and needing someone to help.
“When they’re gone — to know that we’re giving their child someone that they can look up to, that they can talk to about everything that they’re going through, just to give that extra support to them — is just really a big deal.”
More than 700,000 American children have at least one parent deployed with the U.S. military, according to Big Brothers Big Sisters of America. Mentoring services significantly reduce the risk that they will drop out of school, demonstrate violent behavior or make other poor life choices, the organization says.
Volunteers are thoroughly screened and thoughtfully matched with their “littles” to ensure the children have the best possible mentoring experience.
“We make sure that we’re giving them a safe, positive role model for their child,” Gowins said. “We make the match based on the volunteer’s experience and their comfort level. With the wants and the needs of the child, of the parent so we make sure that everybody’s happy. It’s not just a matter of first come first serve.”
As with all Big Brothers Big Sisters programs, the mentoring military children program is provided to the community at no cost.