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Wanted: Big brothers and sisters

Carma Corcoran sees 'a real need in Clackamas County,' and she would love to have your help.

Corcoran, manager of the Clackamas County Big Brothers Big Sisters organization, noted that the county is 'diverse and fast growing,' and she sees 'kids that need to be served just in the small area in which we live.'

Corcoran's current office is located in the midst of a large apartment complex on SE Causey Avenue.

'We've been here since October, and we want to build a presence; there are lots of kids to be served in all of Clackamas County,' she said.

The Big Brothers Big Sisters organization matches a child with an adult volunteer, and then the two 'go out and about and do things, normal everyday things,' Corcoran said.

She explained that the 'biggest reason' for volunteers to get involved 'is to know that the experience will truly have a positive impact on a child.'

She added, 'For the 'little' brother or sister, the result is better relationships with peers and family-grades go up, and the child is less likely to use drugs and alcohol, less likely to be involved in the criminal justice system.'

For 'big' brothers or sisters, the plus factor is 'the impact that they will feel personally giving back to the community. Sometimes we forget that the relationship goes both ways-the impact goes both ways,' Corcoran said.

Jan Niesen of Lake Oswego has been matched up with Destynee Worthen, an 11-year-old girl from Oregon City, for over a year.

'My kids are gone. I have two boys, so I never had a girl. I was looking for something to do, and it's fun to have a little girl for awhile,' Niesen said.

'We've been to the zoo, to OMSI many times, to the Rose Festival, to the beach-it was my first time going to the beach,' Worthen said.

She added, 'We have a lot of fun and I have somebody to spend time with. I'm the oldest of four kids, so I have nobody to look up to except my mom, and she's at work.'

Niesen said that the pair often just 'hangs out at my house,' adding that Worthen gets a big kick out of playing fetch the ball with her dog.

'We're taking photos and making a scrapbook for each of us. We each get to pick what to put in it. When our match is over, I'll give her her scrapbook, and she'll give me mine,' Worthen noted.

Another match that has lasted a little over a year is Ryan Smith, 15, and Shaun Harris, who is in export sales with the SL Follen Company in Lake Oswego.

'It's something to do when I'm bored. We've gone to arcades, on bike rides-I've taught him to play Lacrosse,' Smith said.

'We've also gone to basketball games and the rodeo,' Harris said, and Smith added, 'And Lumberjack games.'

For Harris, the program is a 'good opportunity to get out in the community and see a different side of life, otherwise I'd work all the time.'

A 'variety of programs' available

Corcoran wants potential volunteers to know that the program fields 'a variety of programs.'

She said, 'We have community-based mentors,' like the matches described above, but there are also 'school-based programs, a Teen Bigs program and Amachi.'

Options for the school-based program include a business 'adopting' a school, and employees can go in and have lunch with the children, or individuals can interact with their little sister or brother exclusively at school.

'My little sister is school based at Oak Grove, and I go see her once a month for an hour. It is so meaningful to her and to me. My role is to be her friend. She had a speech on Sacajawea, and I listened to it three times. It was a great time,' Corcoran said.

She encourages senior citizens to get involved as well, especially for the school-based program.

'Seniors are fabulous-we just got our first big sister from Willamette View. We encourage seniors to go into their local grade school in their neighborhood,' she added.

Corcoran said that teachers meet with the volunteers and sort out which day is best for the children-then the pair can meet for lunch, or just to talk, and there are tutoring opportunities as well.

A high school 'big' or teen 'big' is a high school student who volunteers as a big brother or sister to a younger child. Older students become friends and role models for the younger ones.

In addition, the Teen Big program offers high school kids 'a leadership service, and the experience is great for esteem building. For teens who are interested in going to college, it provides a volunteer opportunity to show those colleges that they are well-rounded students,' Corcoran noted.

The Amachi program 'provides mentors for children whose parents may be incarcerated,' Corcoran said.

'This is a faith-based program-we are looking for local churches to partner with,' she added.

'I want people to have an awareness-there are so many ways to get involved,' Corcoran said.

'Certain kids have higher needs, like kids who live in foster care or who have one or more parents incarcerated. Certain ethnic kids could really use somebody,' she added.

Businesses can sponsor a 'Bigs for a Day' activity-this would involve a company throwing a pizza party or holding a picnic in a local park for children and company employees, Corcoran suggested.

'This is a great way to get involved-we can take our unmatched kids and this gives them an opportunity. Sometimes matches are made there,' Corcoran said, adding that there is 'always a waiting list-we always need matches for boys.'

'We are looking for corporate sponsors to donate pizza for our match activities-we always need art supplies,' she added.

'We do couples matches-if a couple wants to do something together, we match them with a boy. A young couple, or older, they can mentor a child together,' Corcoran noted.

Steps lead to matching process

Corcoran said that volunteers need to follow some simple steps in order to become a Big Brother or Big Sister.

'They need to make a phone call, then we'll make an appointment and schedule them for an interview. We run a thorough background check-we do everything we can to ensure the safety of our children,' Corcoran noted.

'We ask for a year's commitment, and many matches go on for many years. [Volunteers] usually see the child three times a month, and they contact each other weekly, either by phone or e-mail,' she added.

'Once a match is made, Big Brother Big Sister offers so much support. Our match support specialist checks in with the 'big' once a month to find out if there are any concerns or questions, and also checks in with the child and family. I think that's what causes the matches to be so healthy-there is commitment and support on both sides of the match.'

As for the matches themselves, 'Children come in a variety of ways-sometimes a parent or guardian calls, and asks, 'How can I get a big sister or brother?' Sometimes we get referrals from teachers or pastors. We also have great relationships with other agencies, such as DHS, Headstart and John Sena's group, the Juvenile Assistance Corporation (JAC),' Corcoran said.

The corporation, a non-profit organization, funded by Clackamas County, has been around for 15 years, Sena noted. Current sites are based at Milwaukie and New Urban High Schools and Alder Creek Middle School.

Sena and Eric Moore, site supervisor, are 'fishing around to see how to mobilize the community to help kids and families. We're talking about being the eyes and ears in the field for greater impact. We'd like to find adults in the faith-based community to go to the high schools and elementary schools. We'd like to help pave the way-we have a vested interest in what [Big Brothers and Big Sisters] is doing.'

Corcoran said she is 'really excited' about the opportunities in Clackamas County.

She said, 'We have over 150 matches in the county, and we have lots of plans to grow. Our goal is to do nothing but grow out here and serve these kids.'