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I attended a community meeting recently where we discussed the trouble with kids today, both in Helena and our world. Too many kids are going to school or malls with guns. Too many kids have the wrong interaction with law enforcement. Too many kids miss school. Too many kids are unlikely to graduate. Too many kids are hungry and too many kids don’t have positive role models.

No one talked about how we could impact the issues; I couldn’t let it go at that.

I was, and will be, a Big Brothers Big Sisters volunteer. When I first connected with my Little Brother he had trouble attending school, let alone getting grades reflecting his intelligence. Somehow, he never missed a day we scheduled during his lunch period. Even when he was as sick as a dog, and I didn’t want him in school, he was there.

I learned when he was preparing to graduate last year (with good grades!), he is the only person in his family with a high school diploma. I can’t tell you how proud of him I am.

What kids want, what kids need, is positive adult attention (even when they say they don’t). Not everyone has two parents who can do it all. It’s never the kids’ fault. But because they’re kids, they’ll likely think it is.

Every child has potential. Big Brothers and Big Sisters are Defenders of Potential for kids.

BBBS mentors provide the adult friendship and support kids need and crave. Sometimes it’s a blast to hang with your friend. Sometimes, a friend helps you understand doing things we don’t want to do, are important. We spent many hours going over homework problems. That wasn’t fun for either of us, but it was absolutely needed. We also had plenty of fun playing cards, seeing movies, getting a behind the scenes tour of the airport, a restaurant kitchen and the TV station.

And it made a difference. After being matched with a mentor for 12 months:

• 95% of kids increase their self-confidence,

• 88% improve their classroom participation,

• 89% feel more equipped to avoid substance abuse, and

• 89% improve their relationships with family.

I had no idea I was doing so much - I was just hanging out with my friend.

Our story is only one of many; indeed, we are only going to address our larger issues one person at a time. BBBS is on track to serve about 140 kids in the area this year.

Can we do something about the youth in Helena? Do you have two hours a week to spend time with a friend? It doesn’t have to be every week even – we all have travel and conflicts. Don’t know what to do? I like to play cards, cook and build furniture. Guess what my Little and I did? It really doesn’t matter what you do, it matters that you do it.

Our time is precious. If you can’t volunteer, we need your support for the professionals who work to support the kids, parents and volunteers. Child safety is our number one priority. BBBS hires professionals who do their utmost to make match relationships that are safe and successful. Doing that takes money. All donations support our efforts to make sure we continue to meet the high requirements for child safety.

We can make a difference. We can have an impact on kids' lives and choices. It takes time and money. And we need you to help with either one (or both).

You can make a difference. Can we afford not to? Volunteer or contribute to BBBS-Helena.org.

Sincerely and with Thanks,

Peter Strauss of Helena is the board chair for Big Brothers Big Sisters of Helena and Great Falls.

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