By Sara Albsmeyer
* Originally published in Illinois College's The Rambler on May 11, 1988.
"It's very rewarding to work with the kids. They are always so excited to see you," said Kris Madsen, Illinois College's representative for the Big Brother/Big Sister program.
The program is designed to give a child a special friend. There are many different situations. The child can come from a family where both parents work and feel the child needs more attention or the child may come from a single parent home where the parent feels the child needs a positive opposite sex role model. "Amanda (Madsen's Little Sister) is a twin and a middle child. Sometimes the middle child is sort of the fall guy. Her mother felt that she needed more individual attention," said Madsen.
Any child up to the age of 18 can qualify for the program. "There is a long waiting list of children who need Big Brothers or Sisters," said Madsen. "The list is especially long for children who want Big Brothers."
Anyone over the age of 18 can qualify to become a Big Brother or Sister. Persons interested in the program can fill out an application and submit it, along with two references to John Kelker, the director of the program. The next step is an interview with Kelker and then an interview with the prospective Little Brother or Sister and his or her family.
Big Brothers and Sisters are paired up with a child according to similar interests and the child's need. The case worker for the program keeps in close contact with the pair, especially in the beginning to make sure there are no problems.
During the interview with the family the director makes sure that everyone understands the rules of the program. The Big Brother or Sister is expected to contact the child at least twice a month, the more contact the better. The Big Brother or Sister must always get permission from the parents for the activity they are going to do with the child. "One problem I've had," said Madsen, "is that I'll get permission for the child to do something and then when it's time to go her parents say she can't because she has been bad at school. They are not supposed to use the Big Brother or Sister as punishment because then the child might start to think of the Big Brother or Sister in a negative way. The Big Brother or Sister is supposed to be a positive influence."
Students at both colleges are very active in the program. There are male and female representatives of both campuses. Little Brothers or Sisters can eat for free in Illinois College's dining hall. MacMurray College, on the other hand, is very involved with children from Illinois School for the Deaf. This is good for both the Big Brother or Sister and the child, since both are away from home.
Many local businesses are also involved in the program. TCBY, Arby's and Pizza Hut all give discounts. Eight Wheeler's has free skating on Wednesday and Saturday nights. The YMCA lets the Big and Little Brothers or Sisters in free if they are doing an activity together.
The Big Brother/Big Sister program is part of the United Way. Most of the funding comes from the United Way. The rest of the funding comes from donations.
"Last week I went to Amanda's band concert. She was playing the flute that I used to play in junior high. You could see the excitement on her face. They even played one of the same songs I played in my first concert!"
* This is the second in a series of blog posts about Big Brothers Big Sisters historical involvement at Illinois College in coordination with the Khalaf Al Habtoor Archives at Illinois College.