A big sister in the Hernando County division of the Big Brothers Big Sisters program, Donna Blodgett of Spring Hill finds that when it comes to Big Brothers Big Sisters, she gets just as much as she gives. “I feel like a kid again,” she said. “This is such a great experience.”
Little sister Deanna, a nine-year-old Hernando County elementary school student, agrees. “She teaches me skills, she gives me advice,” said Deanna. “We have fun. And Donna took me on my first roller coaster!” The dynamic duo of Donna and Deanna go many places together, from ceramics classes to amusement parks, even the Greater Hernando County Chamber of Commerce where they attended the July 27 ribbon cutting of the Big Brothers Big Sisters program opening in Hernando County.
Although Big Brothers Big Sisters Tampa Bay encompasses nine counties and finds its physical headquarters in Tampa, BBBS is establishing a Hernando team and seeks to create more of a presence in this area. At this time, in Hernando County, 100 kids occupy the BBBS waiting list, waiting for a mentor. “We received a $75,000 grant, but it requires that we find 75 mentors, age 55 and up, to mentor the kids in the program,” explained Kathy McKendree, RSVP partnerships director at Big Brothers Big Sisters.
This BBBS expansion into Hernando County also represents an expansion of its senior mentor program. “We feel that kids will benefit from the life experience of seniors,” said McKendree. “They can set a good example, give advice about college and careers, or just be there for the kids when they have questions or need to talk. They can have a positive influence.”
A Big Brother or Big Sister, says McKendree, can have a positive influence on the life of a child aged 6-13. Indeed, “bigs” have the option of taking their “littles” into the community for fun activities, or meeting them at school for conversation and education. Currently in Hernando County, Deltona and Brooksville elementary schools host BBBS programs.
“A ‘big’ could be someone to talk to, to help you with homework, to spend time with you,” she said. “Especially if they are being raised by single parents who may not have time to go and do fun things with them.” McKendree says that she and her associates would like to speak to Hernando County clubs, organizations, church groups, community centers, etc. about the benefits of being a “big.”
Joyce White, RSVP program coordinator, said at the July 27 ribbon cutting that she looks forward to a bright future for her program in Hernando County. “We look forward to developing more positive relationships in this county, more matches, and a real sense of community,” she said.
Attending the ribbon cutting, catered by Chick-fil-A, were chamber members and representatives of Hernando County Fire Rescue. At the event, BBBS Tampa Bay President and Chief Executive Officer Stephen Koch was introduced by the Greater Hernando County Chamber of Commerce Executive Director Morris Porton, who emphasized that while BBBS was debuting their Hernando headquarters (based in the homes of local staffers), the program has been active in Hernando County for a long time. “In 2021 and in more than nine counties, more than 2,100 children were paired with adult mentors,” said Koch. “We offer a program that is enjoyable and valuable to both adults as well as kids.”
Kathy McKendree encourages Hernando residents interested in being a big brother or big sister, or who would like to welcome her to speak at their church, club, or community group to contact her at [email protected] or 352-549-0225. People can also visit their website https://bbbstampabay.org.
At the ribbon cutting, big sister Donna and little sister Deanna received a rousing round of applause. And as they sat together at a table, they planned their next adventure together.