In the News

‘Bigs in Schools’ changing lives

Big Brothers Big Sisters program helping kids at Green Holly Elementary

by Jesse Yeatman, Staff writer, Southern Maryland News

Wednesday, Jan. 02, 2013

Travon Cuffee, a second-class petty officer with the Navy, goes back to elementary school every Tuesday.  He’s not there to bone up on his math skills, but instead to chat with first-grader Sirus Armstrong about how his day is going.

Cuffee heard about the need for volunteers for the Bigs in School program at Green Holly Elementary School while at work at Patuxent River Naval Air Station.  He said he quickly signed up to help, and is happy to have a young child to mentor who is near the age of his own two children, who live in Virginia.

Kaylee McVerry, program specialist for Big Brothers Big Sisters of the Greater Chesapeake, said she was worried that there would not be enough mentors for the program.  A call went out to workers on Patuxent River Naval Air Station, and the problem was solved, she said.

While there are enough volunteers now for the small program at Green Holly, the organization can always use other help with community programs, McVerry said.

Some companies encourage, and even allow paid time, for employees to be a part of a volunteer programs like Bigs in Schools.

Cuffee said he goes to Green Holly every Tuesday during lunch on his own time and meets with Sirus, who is 7.

He sits with Sirus while he eats lunch and they talk about the weekend, how school is going, sports and other topics.

“Basically, it’s just somebody to talk to,” he said.  “We talk about if he’s feeling happy or sad.”

Cuffee usually wears his Navy uniform when he volunteers in school, something Sirus really likes to see.

McVerry said the students look forward each week to seeing their big brother or sister, and that those mentors can be a positive force in the life of a child, and even be life changing.

“I also provide some relationship-building activities for them,” she said.

They can fill out journals or worksheets about personalities.  Anything, she said, that might help spark a conversation between the big and little, as the mentor and student are called.

Luis Conde, an engineer who works at Pax River, said that volunteering is a good way to give back.  He meets up with second-grader Ryquann Johnson once a week, where sports is usually the hot topic of conversation, he said.

The program has been at Green Holly for several years, McVerry said.

Principal Wauchilue Adams said that the program at Green Holly offers select students extra, one-on-one relationship that is consistent on a regular basis.

“It gives them someone else to talk to, someone else to give them attention,” she said.

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