CLEWISTON — Big Brothers Big Sisters of the Sun Coast is bringing its “Beyond School Walls” program to Hendry County to kick start the new school year.
And it is asking Hendry County businesses to participate in the volunteer program which focuses on mentoring local students for a future career by learning what it means to work for a corporation, what education is needed to achieve professional success, and business etiquette from an early age.
“It has great potential to be quite important in the community," said Kelly Palmer, Big Brothers Big Sisters Regional Director for Lee/Hendry and Collier counties. “Because it will fill a gap for many students who do not have a strong guiding influence with respect to navigating their future academic and professional pathways.”
Palmer hopes at least 10 area business volunteers will commit to mentoring a student for a few hours bi-monthly for at least one year.
Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the program is now conducted virtually. Coordinated and managed by BBBSSC, students and mentors schedule routine virtual sessions to learn about the partnering company and associated industry.
Palmer has been working with the Hendry County School District, the Clewiston and LaBelle Chambers of Commerce, Hendry County Board of Commissioners and the Hendry County Economic Development Council, to bring the program here.
Hendry County Commissioner Karson Turner thinks mentoring is one of the overlooked aspects of success in young people today, recalling how helpful the coaches and teachers that mentored him during his school years opened new vistas he may have otherwise never known about.
Having been a BBBS participant in the past outside of Florida, Turner has seen its benefits and believes it will benefit the county’s eastern portion the way he said County Attorney Mark Lapp has done in western Hendry County.
“Knowing we have a huge need on the eastern side of the county for mentoring we try to see Big Brothers Big Sisters as coming into more of its own on this side,” he said.
“We’ve had some hiccups, but the Beyond School Walls Program is the one that is going to fit the best for us over here.”
Turner encourages business owners volunteer in not just the BSW program, but in other aspects of BBBS they may find appealing.
“Just any way you can get involved is essential,” he said, adding that mentors and volunteers shouldn’t consider volunteering to be a passive activity.
He encourages mentors and volunteers to communicate with BBBS program managers to get the best experiences they can and provide the best service to children. He recommends committing at least a year to whatever program they choose, suggesting the benefits to the community they will see will make them want to continue giving.
“Challenges like that will help us take charge of our community and see if it can become generational instead of a little bump in the road.”
Both Clewiston and LaBelle Chambers of Commerce have worked with its members to participate with high school students.
“Personally, I love the effort simply because it gives the kids a path to something,” Clewiston COC Assistant Executive Director Cynedra Blake said.
“It helps to give them exposure, whether it’s something they’re directly interested in or helps them to understand the county the area and it helps us build our future workforce.
This is the first year the LaBelle COC has advertised to its business members about the BSW program and Executive Director Diane Fidanza is hopeful it will be welcomed.
“We’ve put the information out to all of our businesses and hopefully it will touch someone’s heart and they would want to part in it and be able to help mentor our students,” she said.
Big Brothers Big Sisters of the Sun Coast provides one-to-one mentoring relationships to children ages 6 to 18-years old throughout the Gulf Coast of Florida in 10 counties.
Adult volunteers undergo a background check and along with student applicants go through an in-depth interview process to be matched according to their interests and physical proximity pre-Covid, Palmer said. Now meetings are conducted virtually.
“Volunteers will be prepped for what the focus with the child will be,” she said.
Many volunteers continue mentoring the child they first started with throughout the years, building relationships that may continue after the program has been completed.
Its programs support children facing adversity such as those in low-income or non-two-parent households with professionally supported strong and enduring life-changing mentoring relationships.
BBBS was founded in 1904 and has locations worldwide focusing on developing positive relationships with young people that have a direct and lasting effect.