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Big Brothers and Big Sisters gather for a summer campout

A little time makes a big difference.

Members of Big Brothers Big Sisters of Island County spent a little time together Saturday morning -- right on into Sunday, in fact.

The one-night camp, held at the Island County Fairgrounds, gave South Whidbey "Bigs" and "Littles" a chance to keep connected during the summer months, when school is out. The event began at 9 a.m. and ended at noon the next day, and included round-the-clock entertainment for participants.

"This is the first school-based camp offered," said Kristen Dono, Big Brother Big Sister Match Coordinator and AmeriCorps member. "There are activities here that connect participants socially."

What exactly are Bigs and Littles?

Younger students, or Littles, are kids from the South Whidbey Primary and Intermediate schools, Langley Christian School, and Langley Middle School who are interested in having an older-age friend. They are referred to the program by parents and teachers. They are then matched up by interest and day of application with qualified Bigs, who range from high schoolers to college students and adults.

Bigs spend an hour a week with their Littles, supervised by the program, during the school year.

For those who would like to devote more time to their mentorship, the community-based program gives volunteers the opportunity to organize more time with their matches outside of school.

Both the school-based and community-based programs focus on building positive relationships between mentor and child, while improving self-esteem and self-awareness through spending quality time together.

Big Brothers Big Sisters is a relatively new program to Island County. The first Island chapter started in Oak Harbor three years ago with program director Peggy Stanford, and has since spread to South Whidbey, which is celebrating its second year. In a relatively short amount of time, the Southend chapter has more than doubled in size.

"There were only 30 matches last year. This year, there are 76 on South Whidbey," said match coordinator Jon Gabelein. "We would like to keep them all in touch during the summer."

Saturday's activity seemed to do just that.

With baseball games all day, a guided tour of a fire truck, a walk to Langley beach, a magic show performed by Ruben Cordero, and a night of making s'mores, there were plenty of activities to satisfy everyone, as well as help to familiarize matches. Both Bigs and Littles also enjoyed playing with Ola, the assistance dog in training.

South Whidbey High School sophomore Jenna Hagglund believes the program reminds mentors what it is like to grow up.

"I had a Big Sister as a child. I thought it'd be fun to experience being one for someone else," she said. "It gives us a different perspective to work with kids. We begin to realize the problems which youth face today."

Hagglund's Little, fourth-grader Jacque Petosa, is also no stranger to the program.

"Both my parents were in the program," she said. "I'm enjoying it so far."

Marci Strong, a high school sophomore, and her fifth-grade Little, Tanya Scriven, have been matched together since the program began on South Whidbey two years ago.

"I thought it'd be a good experience and a good chance to be a part of a kid's life," Strong said. "We had a lot of fun with the camp, especially the painting activities," she added, pointing to a beaming, paint-splattered Scriven.

"I am having a really good time," Scriven said. "In my class, everyone wanted a Big Sister. Everyone wanted to join."

Unfortunately, the increased popularity has left the Southend chapter with currently nine Littles waiting to be assigned a Big.

"We've dealt with Big shortages in both gender categories," Jon Gabelein said. "It's a great program for people who want community service hours, or simply enjoy being around kids."

Those interested in participating in the Big Brothers Big Sisters program may contact Gabelein by phone at 221-6808 Ext. 4602 or by e-mail at jongabelein@sw.wednet.edu.

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