Big Brothers Big Sisters gains military focus with new grant
Twelve-year-old Jessie Harper aims for a spare while SPC Sanqwey Walker watches. Walker has mentored Harper for the past year through the Big Brothers Big Sisters program. Volunteers or parents interested in enrolling their children in the program should call 706-327-3760.

FORT BENNING GA - After 20 years of serving the valley area, Big Brothers Big Sisters is concentrating much of its efforts on Fort Benning, thanks to a $20,000 grant that will link military children and Soldiers with "Bigs" and "Littles" in the community.

The grant will allow the nonprofit organization to quadruple the number of military children it serves, said Sally Gowins, special programs and volunteer recruitment coordinator.
Gowins said she is currently looking for active-duty Soldiers and children of deployed parents to plug into the program.

"We see the need," she said. "I'm a military wife myself, and we see how hard it is for children to adjust to having a parent gone. We just want to provide whatever support we can to the troops, considering what sacrifices and dedication they've given to us as a nation."

Active-duty volunteers are also an important part of the program because they provide a positive influence in a child's life and strengthen the ties between the Army community and the local civilian community, Gowins said.

"You're already a great role model in serving your country, and then to extend that service and help kids in the community, I think that's amazing," she said.

So far, Soldiers have stepped up, said Gowins, who has signed on at least 15 military volunteers since they received the grant this spring.

It's especially helpful to have male Soldiers volunteer, she said, because there is always a waiting list for boys who need to be paired with a big brother.

SPC Sanqwey Walker started volunteering as a "Big" last year. That's when he met 12-year-old Jessie Harper.

Harper is a middle schooler who enjoys sports, especially basketball. For Walker, that was a perfect fit, said the 352nd Engineer Company Soldier.

The "brothers" will celebrate their one-year anniversary this month. In the past year, they have spent time bowling, playing ball, swimming, riding go karts and working on school assignments.
"Some of the things he's taken me to I've never done before," Jessie said. "I like being in the program and getting out of the house. It's been fun. If I need help, he'll try to help me. And at school, he tries to keep me out of trouble."

Walker said he understands the importance of positive role models because of his own childhood, spent in some "rough" apartment complexes without a father. It was volunteer groups that kept him out of trouble, he said, and that's why he joined Big Brothers Big Sisters.
"It was an opportunity," Walker said.

"I figured I didn't have anything to do with my spare time and I like doing fun things so I gave it a try. I love volunteering. When I met Jessie - personality and everything he liked to do - I knew I had a chance to connect. I have an opportunity now to be a big brother to somebody."
Walker said he tries to teach Jessie Army values like integrity and leadership and share lessons from his own life experiences. Jessie has started doing better in school, and Walker continues to reward good grades and good behavior with special activities.

Jessie said he enjoys having a "Big" who calls him and takes him out somewhere for a game or a bite to eat.

"I like having a big brother," he said. "It makes a difference to me."

Gowins' goal for the grant is to match at least 50 active-duty Soldiers and at least 25 children with a deployed parent by the end of the year.

With the needs of the children on one side and the willingness and generosity of the Soldiers on the other, she has no doubt she will meet that goal, she said.

Page last updated Thu August 20th, 2009 at 18:01