FORT BLISS, Texas – Five students from the NCO Leadership Center of Excellence and Sergeants Major Academy lead the change by volunteering with the Big Brothers Big Sisters (BBBS) of El Paso.
Artez Lamar an instructor for the Sergeants Major Course organized the opportunity for the Class 70 students by having the BBBS program provide a 15-minute informational brief for his class at the beginning of each semester.
“As an Instructor at the Academy, the goal is to provide the military and civilian communities with enlisted leaders of character and competence,” he said. “Children are our future and for this reason, I asked the students of Class 70 to extend the influence of our Academy into the El Paso Community.”
Lamar an active volunteer with the BBBS program, started when he was a student at the SMC.
“It’s been almost 20 years since I volunteered with the program,” Lamar said. “Though I was first introduced to the Big Brothers Big Sisters program as a child and then again as a student of Class 51.”
Lamar added, “When I was a little boy my mentor’s name was Mr. Nathaniel Williams. He helped me when I needed it most and told me ‘all I needed to do to be successful was to help other people every day’ (HOPE).”
Through his volunteer efforts Lamar found a way to give back to the community that gave to him.
“Over the years this translated to me helping my Soldiers, students, and the communities I became a part of,” he said. “The students of Class 70 rose to the occasion with five becoming mentors ‘Bigs’ for children ‘Littles’ in the El Paso Big Brother Big Sister Program,” he said. “Their willingness to serve in this way helps their Littles meet the challenges they face in this complex world.”
Master Sgt. Harrison Helms a geographic bachelor explains his experience as an SMC Big, matched to a Little named Cole.
“My interactions with Cole helped me to have a better understanding of his age group, which is the same as my children.”
“Since Cole and I have been matched, we have tried to do something every weekend together,” Helms said. “We have gone bowling, visited a museum, and we escaped from a Red Door escape room down at the Fountains.”
Outings with the Littles builds trust, develops bonds and promotes growth.
“Cole and I have had a few outings helping us to form the bond that will enable Cole to trust that I will be available when he needs to talk to someone and does not want the parental judgment,” Helms said. “The intention for each new activity we engage in is to provide Cole another method of learning and growing as he transitions through adolescence.”
Though BBBS is a program to benefit the children it also creates opportunities of growth for the Bigs.
“Another aspect is my growth in these activities,” Helms said. “With all of the studying, I spend a lot of time closed up in a room by myself, isolated from the world. By participating in the BBBS program, I am able to break free of my routine and experience activities I otherwise would forego.”
Even through the current times of social distancing Helms continues many forms of contact with Cole.
“I have been talking to my little through an online gaming chat program that has text, picture, and voice capabilities,” Helms said. “In addition to our regular chats I run a ‘Dungeons and Dragons’ game for my kids who are still in Florida.
Helms and the rest of the SMC Bigs provide a few hours every month to give back to the community by interacting with their Littles, and enrollment into the program is always open.
“It is a great honor to be a positive addition to a young kid’s life,” Stormy Graham Jr. an SMC Big exclaims. “I am having the time of my life being able to take part in the Big Brothers and Big Sisters program and I recommend more people participate, we can change the world.”
Rebecca Romero the Big Brothers Big Sisters of El Paso development director explains new Bigs and Littles are always welcomed, especially during a pandemic.
“As we all adjust to our temporary new normal, it’s important to remember that many El Paso families are no stranger to hard times even outside this COVID-19 crisis time,” she said. “Those are the families Big Brothers Big Sisters continues to serve while the world is on hold.”
BBBS practices social distancing and leveraging digital platforms for Bigs and Littles to get enrolled and matched.
“The agency has adapted to make mentoring possible from the online enrollment to the virtual mentor/mentee hangouts,” she said. “While Bigs and Littles can’t see each other in person for the time being, there are still plenty of ways to connect, from calls and texts, to social media and online gaming.”
Romero added, “Of course, real world experiences will be back on the menu as soon as the world goes back to normal, but in the meantime, our Littles need the support now more than ever.”
BBBS also provides a little extra support to military families through Operation Bigs.
“The agency has funding specifically to serve military youth,” she said. “The one-to-one mentoring with a screened, trained and caring adult mentor does wonders for a child’s self-confidence and ability to avoid risky behaviors, not to mention expose them to amazing new experiences.”
The Big Brothers Big Sisters mission is to provide children facing adversity with strong and enduring, professionally supported one-to-one relationships that change their lives for the better, forever.