Jacksonville IL

What it Means to be a BIG

How long have you been a Big?

Addy: This is my first year being a "big," but I've been involved with the BBBS program for two years now.

Why did you chose to become a Big?

Addy: I chose to become a big because I remember when I was younger and admired older kids, and I want to be that positive influence for my little, Dezire.

What have been a few highlights of being a Big?

Addy: There are a lot of great things about being a big, but my favorite is when she doesn't want to go home because we're having so much fun together. We're a lot of the same person, so we like to listen to music and talk about everything, which is so fun for both of us we don't want it to end. I love seeing Dezire's personality come out a little more each time we're around each other, whether it's her telling me she doesn't like my music or what she wants to do for our next big/little date.

Being a big has changed me because it reminds me to forget the small stuff and focus on the bigger picture: just enjoying life.

How has your relationship with your Little changed you? How has it changed her?

Addy: Being a big has changed me because it reminds me to forget the small stuff and focus on the bigger picture: just enjoying life. Since becoming a big, I've become a lot more aware of all the fun opportunities there are to experience throughout the community, partially because I want to take Dezire to do these things. I'm being a kid again while growing up at the same time, and it's an experience that is reminding me life is too short to dwell on the small stuff and I need to fit in all the fun stuff I can.

I'm not sure how the experience has changed Dezire yet, but I hope it's helping her see the fun in life, too.

The Impact of a Big

By Jordan Hale; Illinois College

Big Brothers Big Sisters of West Central Illinois is a youth-mentoring non-profit service organization that provides ongoing supportive services to children in need of a mentor. At the June National Conference, they were selected as a 2016 Pinnacle Award winner as only five Big Brother Big Sisters of nearly four-hundred received this award. Agencies selected for the Award must demonstrate excellence in quality mentoring services, including sustained long-term mentoring relationships and increased revenues. Amy Edwards, an active Big Sister and board member in the organization, is very honored that they could receive this prestigious award.

Amy Edwards is the Patient Experience Coordinator at the Quincy Medical Group. The medical center provides quality healthcare services to over 300,000 people annually in the tri-state area. She got involved in Big Brothers Big Sisters whenever her husband, then boyfriend, gave her the idea to join him in being a Big to a child. Amy has been a Big for over three years now and will continue to be involved for the rest of her life. Her message to those trying to determine if they want to get involved with Big Brothers Big Sisters is to “definitely do it.” She said that, “It is absolutely more rewarding for the adults than it is the Big’s. Being able to be that mentor and positive role model makes you feel good about yourself.” Though most Big’s are involved for many years, her story is completely different and truly incredible. 

She began with her first “Little” and met weekly for one hour intervals and was asked to meet with her for a minimum of one year. She never missed those weekly sessions with her little and as time passed, she became closer and closer with her. Three years ago, whenever she began her journey with Big Brothers Big Sisters and her first and only little, she did not expect that that little would now be her foster daughter. According to Amy, “She went into the foster system and I snatched her up. So, she went from being my sister, to being my daughter.”

She went into the foster system and I snatched her up. So she went from being my sister, to being my daughter.
— Amy Edwards

Though she has found her life-long match, that does not stop her dedication to Big Brothers Big Sisters. Ryan Flynn, fundraising and social media coordinator of BBBSWCI stated, “Amy’s dedication to Big Brothers Big Sisters’ mission is a testament to her commitment to the youth of her community. She is a great board member and an even better Big.” 

Big Brothers Big Sisters of West Central Illinois works extremely hard on matching children with correct Big’s and having many events throughout the calendar year geared toward bringing them together while also fundraising for the organization. The next event is the Paw Patrol Extravaganza in Quincy, Illinois, which Amy will be working at. This is the first time they have done this event. According to Amy, “We wanted to do an event where we could incorporate kiddos and also where families could come out and do things. It is a great way to fundraise while letting families have a good time.” The police and fire departments will also be in attendance."

Whenever asked why the average person should support Big Brothers Big Sisters, she expressed the value of the dollar to them rather than to a larger organization. They do not require a lot of money, just that to keep staff in the office and do background checks for new Bigs that want to get involved in Big Brothers Big Sisters.  They can do a lot with a little and have proven that over the years that they are in fact doing so.  

Amy and the others at Big Brothers Big Sisters believe that West Central Illinois is ahead of the game. This is exemplified with them receiving the Pinnacle Award this year. She explains that their board is very active and their staff is amazing. You must have dedicated employees to be a successful non-profit organization. Executive Director of Big Brothers Big Sisters of West Central Illinois Cindy Denby stated that “Big Brothers Big Sisters of West Central Illinois is changing lives of children. Our children's opportunity for success increases by 80 percent in areas such as graduation, less likely to use drugs or alcohol, and joining the work force. We strive to make our children's lives better one match at a time.” 

We strive to make our children’s lives better one match at a time.
— Cindy Denby

Big Brothers Big Sisters of West Central Illinois betters our community’s youth one child at a time. If you would like to donate or are interested in becoming a Big, visit www.bigbrothersbigsisterswci.org for more information. You may also reach them at (217) 243-3821.

Celebrities Paint For A Cause

By Lucas Marlow

Paint, it is a liquid substance that comes in many colors. Paint can be light and vibrant or dark and mysterious; however, dip an instrument such as a brush into paint and place it elegantly on a canvas and you can begin to see the inner thoughts of the one who manipulates the paint. An image begins to appear as the varying colors dance and create firm boundaries in their particular placement. Thus this canvas full of paint becomes something of value to us and allows us to feel emotion. It is more than just paint. It carries significance. 

Big Brothers Big Sisters (BBBS) is the nation’s oldest one-to-one youth mentoring non-profit service organization that provides ongoing supportive services to children. BBBS helps shape, model and create better lives for children through their mentoring program which is not much different from painting. The mentors are the brush and the children are the canvas. The paint is the influence, the teaching and instruction that the mentors (the brush) provide and apply to the canvas. Mentors have the ability to paint or re-paint the lives of their mentees. Big Brother Big Sisters provides this relationship because their cause is significant to the children they serve. 

Mentors have the ability to paint or re-paint the lives of their mentees. Big Brothers Big Sisters provides this relationship because their cause is significant to the children they serve.

Look Who’s Painting is an event that has been held by Big Brothers Big Sisters of West Central Illinois (BBBSWCI) every year for the past five years. For the event, BBBSWCI brings together Morgan County celebrities to produce exciting pieces of art with the hope of raising money to support their programs and the children they serve. This year’s local celebrities include Illinois College’s President Dr. Barbara Farley, Candidate for Morgan County State’s Attorney, Tyson Manker, Illinois State Rep, C.D. Davidsmeyer, Judy Tighe of Jacksonville Main Street, Director of Career Services at MacMurray, Anne Godman, and SafeCo Bakery & Donut’s very own, Saif Mouilish. These are just six of 24 local celebrities painting this year. This event is a great opportunity for networking with very successful local personalities and also gives you a chance to purchase unique artwork created by them.

Brittany Henry, executive director of the Jacksonville Area Convention & Visitors Bureau, who painted last year, stated, “I remember when I was first asked to be part of this event. I am nowhere near artistic and I completely shot it down. And then I thought, it’s a fundraiser for children. So then I came back and said ‘I’m not very artistic, but I will do this because the money is going to a good cause.’” 

BBBSWCI’s fundraising & social media specialist, Ryan Flynn, elaborates on the importance of the event, “Look Who’s Painting is one of the unique events where we really get to interact with leaders in our community, who, in turn, get to learn more about our programs and the kids we serve. The best part is the money raised from this event will be used to further the school programs and help fund more matches in the communities we serve.” 

The best part is the money raised from this event will be used to further the school programs and help fund more matches in the communities we serve.
— Ryan Flynn

It is fundraising events like Look Who’s Painting that help support BBBSWCI. It not only allows them to continue to conduct their work but also create awareness within the community, showing the people of Morgan County the bigger picture. Thanks to the support from the community so far, Big Brothers Big Sisters has seen many children benefiting from the mentoring program. Results from the latest Youth Outcome Survey revealed that 94 percent of children improved in their attitudes towards risky behaviors, 88 percent improved in parental trust, 85 percent improved in their educational expectations, 83 percent improved in scholastic competence, and 83 percent improved in social acceptance.

“Look Who's Painting benefits our over 500 matches and 10 school programs! We are changing the lives of children giving them the chance at success in life,” said Cindy Denby, executive director of BBBSWCI. This event raises about $10,000 a year for this organization. At a previous Look Who’s Painting event, a painting was auctioned off at $750.

Through her participation in the event so far, Dr. Farley realizes the significance of BBBSWCI’s mission, "I really believe strongly that organizations like Big Brothers Big Sisters and others like it that are focused on young people, the impact is real and I think it is an incredibly important mission for the organization." She continues to commit Illinois College to this organization in the future stating, “We are tied to the strength of Jacksonville and the youth of Jacksonville and we need to be part of bringing even more hope to their lives. I think that Illinois College has more to offer. I would love to see our participation in this event be as a first step in building our relationship with Big Brothers and Big Sisters."

The event is Friday, Nov. 18 at Bogart's Banquet Hall, 2142 Old State Road in Jacksonville, Illinois. It will begin at 6:30 p.m. and the Live Auction begins at 7:00 p.m. Attendees at the live auction will be able to purchase the artwork of any of the artists participating in the Look Who’s Painting Event. Appetizers and refreshments will be provided to those attending the event. Tickets to attend the event are $20.00 and can be purchased by calling Ryan Flynn at 217-243-3821 or visiting www.bigbrothersbigsisterswci.org. This event is open to the public. The money acquired through ticket sales and the auction will support BBBSWCI and their mentoring program.

A canvas that has no positive influence, and receives no attention remains blank and unadorned. But a canvas can become beautiful, influential, and significant when a brush creatively, gently, and carefully directs a tapestry of paint on it.

Remember, the children are the canvas, the mentors are the brush, but it is up to you to provide the paint.

* Originally published in the Jacksonville Journal Courier on Oct. 27, 2016.