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Big Brothers Big Sisters program takes off at Highland Springs

Dallas seniors reach across the generations to mentor at-risk youth

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January 29th, 2014
resident with child making crafts
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The third and fourth grade students who visit Springs twice a month may not be residents, but they sure feel at home at the North Dallas community.

“The kids run through the front door of Highland Springs,” says Sonya Goodwin, match support specialist for the Big Brothers Big Sisters Generations program in North Texas. “They love visiting their ‘bigs’ at the community.”

The Generations program developed by Big Brothers Big Sisters pairs students who have been identified by their school counselor as needing a little extra support—the “littles”—with mature adults willing to invest in them—the “bigs.”

“It’s a good partnership for both the bigs and littles,” says Goodwin. “The mentors have a wealth of experience and knowledge to share, and the littles look up to their mentors and enjoy spending time with them.”

Ongoing partnership

The Generations program at Highland Springs is in its second year, having grown from the school-based/site-based format developed by Big Brothers Big Sisters.

“Big Brothers Big Sisters contacted Highland Springs initially to see if residents would be willing to mentor students from Anne Frank Elementary School,” says Goodwin. “Twice a month after school, we transport a group of students to Highland Springs to meet with their mentors for an hour. This format allows multiple volunteers to mentor several children from the same school.”

Highland Springs resident Bill Connell signed up to be a mentor as soon as he learned of the opportunity.

“My wife Carol and I moved to Highland Springs in 2011 when I retired as security manager for the Transportation Security Administration at Dallas/Fort Worth airport,” says Bill. “The pace of my working life was too brisk to volunteer for anything like this. Once we moved, I was tickled to finally have the time to invest in something so worthwhile.”

Bill’s first little was a third grade boy with a fondness for the Dallas Cowboys. 

“We bonded over football,” says Bill. “But he moved midway through the year. Now I have a new little named Fernando. All the children are well behaved, motivated, positive, and laughing. They have a bright future ahead of them.”

Formatted for fun

While Goodwin plans the activity for each meeting—whether a craft or outdoor play—it’s up to the mentors to add a little fun.

“We know the kids have been in school all day,” says Bill. “We want to make sure they enjoy their time with us. At one of our meetings in the fall, we went outside to play croquet. For many of the children, it was their first exposure to the game.”

Highland Springs resident Jackie Burchard is in her first year as a mentor and meets with two boys, Jonathan and Daniel. 

“We interview the bigs and littles before they meet and have some idea of who will be partnered, but it’s amazing how they pair off on their own,” says Goodwin. “The kids tend to drift naturally to the mentor they feel most comfortable around.”

For Jackie, who participates in several activities at Highland Springs, including the Highlandettes dance troupe, the Welcome Committee, Circle of Friends, and the library committee, this volunteer opportunity is most rewarding.

“I help my littles with their homework; they’re working on long division right now,” she says. “And they ask me questions about what it was like when I was growing up. Visiting with them is a highlight of my week.”

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