BIG BROTHERS BIG SISTERS 40TH ANNIVERSARY l KICKS
OFF WITH FUNDRAISER
Serving A Growing Need
Something Big Breakfast Draws About 180
By ERIN FLYNN
HARRISONBURG — Three years
ago, Nehemiah Thomas struggled as a second- grader at Spotswood Elementary
He found it
difficult to focus in class. He was antsy. He avoided reading.
Then, a James
Madison University student volunteering with Big Brothers Big Sisters of
Harrisonburg-Rockingham helped him become a better student.
“Before I met
Becca, I didn’t like to read, and I didn’t like school very much,” said
Nehemiah, 10, now a fifth-grader at Thomas Harrison Middle School. “I didn’t
have a lot of confidence in myself.”
Nehemiah told his
story to about 180 people at Big Brothers Big Sisters’ annual Start Something
Big Breakfast, held Tuesday at JMU’s Festival Conference and Student Center.
Photo: Melissa Thomas of
Harrisonburg embraces her 10-year-old son, Nehemiah Thomas, as she reads a card
for him after the Start Something Big Breakfast, a fundraiser for Big Brothers
Big Sisters of Harrisonburg-Rockingham, on Tuesday morning. Nehemiah, a
fifth-grader at Thomas Harrison Middle School, spoke about his experiences in
the program. Photos by Nikki Fox
Big Brothers Big
Sisters is a national mentoring program that matches mentors, called “bigs,”
with children known as “littles.” The Harrisonburg and Rockingham County
chapter, which served 638 youth in 2015, is the largest in the state.
After they were
matched, Nehemiah and his “big,” Becca Sopelak, met once a week after
school to do homework and play games.
interactions, Sopelak changed how Nehemiah sees school.
“Having a big
sister … helped make learning fun for me,” said Nehemiah, the son of Melissa
and Walter Thomas Jr. “Becca helped explain things in a way that I could
Claudia Portillo, 13, an eighth-grader at Thomas Harrison, and Reza
Akhtar, 22, a senior at JMU, as speakers at Tuesday’s event.
Photo: James Madison University
senior Reza Akhtar of Charlottesville talks about his experience having a
mentor as a child immigrant from Afghanistan at the event. Akhtar is now a
mentor in the organization. Photos by Nikki Fox
The three spoke
about their experiences with the nonprofit, which encouraged Claudia to become
more involved in extracurricular activities and allowed Akhtar to serve as a
Kicking Off A New
In addition to
hearing the three stories, the event’s 180 attendees learned about the history
of Big Brothers Big Sisters of Harrisonburg-Rockingham, which Trinity
Presbyterian Church started in 1976.
Over the past 40
years, the nonprofit has served more than 9,000 children through its community-based
and school-based programs, GrandBigs program, enhanced school-based mentoring
program, and high school program based out of East Rockingham High School.
Big Brothers Big
Sisters operates on a $500,000 budget, said Sue Totty, its executive director.
“This is a very
entrepreneurial organization,” Totty said. “We started a lot of new programs
[and] new strategies to remain relevant in our community.”
believe the nonprofit’s accomplishments are worthy of recognition, they think
the big 4-0 shouldn’t be celebrated with balloons raining down from the
decided the year should kick off with a fundraiser to address the growing need
to support local children.
served by Big Brothers Big Sisters face many challenges, including teenage
pregnancy and gang violence.
“There are a lot of
needs with youth,” Totty said. “I think they’re facing more challenges than
ever and are in more of a need for a mentor.”
To reach its goal
of serving 650 children this year, the nonprofit launched its 40th anniversary
campaign at Tuesday’s breakfast.
Photo: Jane Hubbell of
Harrisonburg, director of Big Brothers Big Sisters of Harrisonburg-Rockingham
from 1984 to 1998, watches a video during the Start Something Big Breakfast on
Tuesday. Photos by Nikki Fox
During the next 40
days, Big Brothers Big Sisters is looking to raise $40,000 and gain 40 new
Totty said the
campaign addresses budgeting needs and provides mentors to students who are
waiting to be paired up.
About 100 children
are on the nonprofit’s community- based program waiting list.
The campaign, Totty
added, also ensures that Big Brothers Big Sisters of Harrisonburg-Rockingham
will be around for another 40 years.
“We want to ensure
to all those founders .. that we’ll be around providing good quality for more
years in the future,” she said.
Contact Erin Flynn
at 574-6293 or firstname.lastname@example.org
*Reprinted with permission from the DN-R