Big Brothers Big Sisters seeks community support in fulfilling Christmas wishes

The littles in Big Brothers Big Sisters of Athens County decorated a Christmas tree at the entrance of Wal-Mart, 929 E. State St., with their holiday wish lists, hoping to receive their items at their annual holiday party in two weeks.

Big Brothers Big Sisters is not only looking to the community to help answer the wish lists of its current members, but also grant the wish of a big for the 50 children on its waiting list.

“The majority (of children on our waiting list) are boys,” said Eric Long, program coordinator of Big Brothers Big Sisters. “It’s difficult for us to get adult males to volunteer.”

Long said boys typically are on the waiting list because they come from single-mom households or are in a situation without a solid male role model. Big siblings fill that role for their littles.

The majority of the 65 paired bigs and littles in the program reside in Athens County, Long said. Big Brothers Big Sisters serves surrounding counties as well, such as Washington, Meigs, Vinton and parts of Hocking.

Bigs and littles spend a minimum of four hours each month together, doing free or low-cost activities such as baking or attending sporting or cultural events in town, said Tara Gilts, executive director of the program. She added that bigs and littles can also partake in events organized by the program each month.

During the holidays, Big Brothers Big Sisters holds its annual holiday party for bigs, littles and families to get into the holiday spirit with activities such as a photo booth, cookie decorating and a visit from Santa Claus. Gilts said this year’s party is expected to have 100 guests.

Big applicants must be at least 19 years old, commit to at least four hours a month of spending time with their little sibling and stick with the program for at least a year. Applicants also undergo thorough background checks.

Many of the big siblings are Ohio University students. One way that they can get more information on getting involved is by checking out Athens Student Action, an organization that helps Athens and Hocking students get involved in community affairs through volunteering, said Tana Reynolds, student coordinator for ASA and an OU graduate student.

Gilts said that although the community has answered many of this year’s wish lists, she is worried there may not be enough gifts under their holiday party tree.

“I (didn’t think) we would need gifts, now I fear we may… I am sure more (answered wish lists) will come in over the next few weeks,” Gilts said. “The response has been very strong this year, which is indicative of the increase we have seen in children enrolled in our program.”

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