By: Jennifer Mesk
“I’ve been working here for 18 years. I looked to move into the non profit world. I got lucky. My title is Enrollment Matching Specialist. I do all the interviews with all the volunteers, parents and kids. I’m the person who is there for the whole process of getting folks matched and do all the paperwork.
The most rewarding thing about working here are the relationships that have been built. I’ve met some fabulous people who are Bigs with the agency that I’m still friends with all these many years alter. I’ve met amazing single moms whose strength and determination just inspire me every single day. Plus all the amazing children. That’s what keeps me going. Not everyday is great but you deal with it. The things that make it great are also the things that make it challenging. People can be challenging. Sometimes you’ll get a volunteer that doesn’t live up to the commitment we ask of them to make. It’s really hurtful, not only to the child but the parent. Sometimes kids make stupid mistakes. It’s frustrating. Not all matches are successful but most are.
There are a couple of instances that stand out to me over the course of my career. The first is a mom we were working with that lived in Pisgah View and was desperate to get her and her family out. It took the course of probably a year of kicking and pushing but we got her into a Habitat for Humanity house.
That was truly one of the most exciting things for her and for us here. We are still friends to this day.
The other one is a match that I just made. Big Sister Laura and her Little Sister Quann were together for 8 years till Quann graduated from high school. Quann will tell anybody and everyone that the reason that she’s where she is because of Laura. They are still in touch today. Quann is 24 now and she and Laura both have young daughters. They all get together and hang out. And just recently I matched Quann’s younger daughter who just turned 6 so she has a Big Sister now. Over the years that’s happened a few times or we get Littles that grow up and become Bigs in the program.
When a family would like to use our services they are usually put on a waiting list. Our waiting list for girls is usually a couple of months. For boys it’s anywhere between 8 months to a year. Men don’t volunteer nearly as often as women do. Pretty much for every 10 women I get one guy. So boys linger and linger and wait. Sometimes they never get a Big Brother. We’ve tried everything over the years to get more men to sign up. We continue to try. It’s heartbreaking when a mom calls in and wants hep and I have to tell them we are at a 10 month wait. That’s just to get them an application not even a Big Brother. I have a drawer full of applications for boys that are still waiting for more male volunteers. I have between 60-80 boys currently waiting. There are a lot of people who don’t know that we are even here much less that we need more volunteers. The commitment is a year with 2 visits a month. You can include the kids into everyday activities. It doesn’t have to be these big events. It could be washing a car, raking leaves, a walk in the park. A lot of our kids live in public housing. So they might not have as many experiences or have been exposed to certain things. Just for them to see that there are other ways to live, other facets of the community. I tell all my volunteers this, I have never had a kid that took a ride on the Blue Ridge Parkway unless they have done it with a volunteer. Never. Because mom doesn’t have a car, or she’s working a lot, or she has a car but doesn’t have the money for a joy ride like that or it’s not something they would ever think of doing. I had a mom one time, we went out towards Bent Creek to visit the Big Sister who had surgery, this woman lived here here her entire life and asked me if we were still in Buncombe County. We were right near the outlet mall. Just to get out on the Blue Ridge Parkway, go have a picnic, see a waterfall. Most have never done that unless they’ve been with a volunteer. I have an eight grader that had never been to a movie theater, not even Asheville Pizza, the $3 movie. It’s very sad. We have a lot of have-nots here in town and we put blinders on and we choose not to think about it. It’s heartbreaking. What potential do we have to change anything if we don’t get involved with young people and show them there is another world out there? Plus to show the moms that someone cares and we know that they are struggling, telling them that they are doing a good job with their kids. They don’t hear that at all. They never hear that.”