DeKALB – Decenna Allen wants someone to teach her 8-year-old son how to be a man.
Allen, a single mother in Genoa, still is waiting to hear from the Big Brothers Big Sisters organization in DeKalb whether her son, Demarcus, has been matched with a volunteer.
Demarcus has been on the waiting list for about three months.
“I just don’t want him to be lost ... because I didn’t try,” Allen said. “I know a lot of people who didn’t make it because of their circumstances. I don’t want him to end up like that.”
Allen’s case is typical for the Big Brothers Big Sisters organization, which is always seeking adults willing to volunteer to be mentors to young people. The organization, a branch of the Family Service Agency, has 42 children on its waiting list.
Officials at the organization use many avenues to reach out to potential volunteers: they advertise, speak at public functions and consistently contact those who sign up as interested volunteers.
“They don’t answer the phone,” said Laura Nolan, Big Brothers Big Sisters Organization program manager. “I leave voicemails. Even people who call and leave me a voicemail won’t call back. We’ll email [them] like crazy.”
Nolan and Courtney Denison, the organization’s director, said the time commitment is what holds many people back from volunteering. The organization requires its “Bigs,” volunteer mentors, to commit to being in the life of their “Little” for at least a year.
In the face of continued difficulty in finding volunteers, the organization has changed some of its requirements in attempts to cater to those with busy schedules. Last month, they reduced the number of hours Bigs need to spend with Littles from two hours a week to eight hours a month.
“I don’t know that we will ever stop [needing Bigs],” Denison said. “[The committment] worries a lot of people. You have no idea where you’ll be a year from now.”
The average child Big Brothers Big Sisters serves is 10 to 11 years old, Denison said. Most of the children come from single-mother households, she said.
Sycamore resident Karen Nikkila is one of those mothers. Her ex-husband left the family about 10 years ago to live in Wisconsin, leaving Nikkila to raise her daughter and 12-year-old son, Brandon, by herself.
Brandon, who has been on Big Brothers Big Sisters Organization’s waiting list since the summer, is a very shy boy, Nikkila thinks, because his dad isn’t around.
“If he had a male role model to be there for him, it might help him get out of [his shyness],” she said. “He needs a man to talk about stuff I have no clue about. That’s something I can’t give him.”
Big Brothers Big Sisters serves some on the waiting list differently. Children on the list who are students at West and North Grove elementary schools in Sycamore can choose to participate in a site-based program in which they are paired with a local high schooler who serves as their Big for at least a school year.
The program will be available at Jefferson Elementary School and Founders Elementary School in DeKalb in the spring, Denison said.
“We bring the program to them so there are no transportation issues and we’re breaking barriers on location,” Nolan said.
All Nikkila and Allen can do now is wait.
Allen said people should consider volunteering because they can really make a difference in the life of a child.
“Without [children], where are we going to be?” she said. “We need to teach them some things and show them to give back.”