WILKES-BARRE — During her entire career, one number has frustrated Tara Olaviany in her job as program director at Big Brothers Big Sisters of The Bridge.
That number currently is 343 — the number of children on the agency’s waiting list. The local agency has 350 children enrolled, but there are many more hoping to get in.
“The waiting list has always bothered me,” said Olaviany, who has been with Big Brothers Big Sisters for 32 years. “It’s been a thorn in my side.”
So Olaviany, who will retire in August to spend more time with her family, issued a challenge to her staff — to reduce the waiting list by 100 in 100 days.
“They were all in,” Olaviany said. “We want to heighten awareness and hopefully motivate and encourage people to get involved.”
The Times Leader Media Group is teaming with the agency as it seeks to achieve its goal.
“We are extremely pleased to partner with Big Brothers Big Sisters as they launch ‘100 Matches In 100 Days,’” said Times Leader Publisher Mike Murray. “This organization does so much to enhance not just the current environment for these children but to create a lifelong relationship. The goal may be ambitious but certainly attainable and we look forward to getting the message to everyone throughout Luzerne County.”
National research has shown that positive relationships between Littles (the children served) and their Bigs (adult big brothers and sisters) have a direct and measurable impact on children’s lives. Landmark research by Public/Private Ventures found that Littles, when compared to their non-mentored peers, are:
• 52 percent less likely to skip school.
• 46 percent less likely to begin using illegal drugs.
• 33 percent less likely to hit someone.
The 2013 Big Brothers Big Sisters Youth Outcomes Report found that of children enrolled in the one-to-one mentoring program:
• 94 percent maintained or improved in their attitudes toward risky behaviors.
• 88 percent maintained or improved in parental trust.
• 85 percent maintained or improved in their educational expectations.
Big Brothers Big Sisters of The Bridge serves children (ages 7 to 18) and families in six counties: Luzerne, Wyoming, Columbia, Carbon, Monroe, and Lycoming.
While Olaviany is proud to serve 350 children, it’s the waiting list of 343 that eats at her every day, motivating her to place more Littles with Bigs.
“What’s important to me is that these are families who have sought out our services,” she said. “We only have about 4,000 days (11 years) to positively impact a child’s life. We want to be able to give the children we serve a solid foundation to allow them to grow up to be contributing adults in our community.”
So as Olaviany’s career winds down, she is intent on putting a significant dent in the waiting list.
“It’s all about helping kids reach their potential,” Olaviany said. “When you are around for 32 years you see time and again the fruits of your labors — you see the difference made in a child’s life and you see them grow up to be such great adults. Our program creates life-lasting memories and relationships.”
Focus is time together
Hundreds turn out each year to bowl for a cause — the annual Bowl For Kids’ Sake event for Big Brothers Big Sisters is the organization’s major fundraiser for the year and can bring in more than $100,000.
Olaviany said all the funds are used to help recruit, screen, and train volunteers to be matched with children coming from single-parent homes or children who are faced with adversity in their lives.
The program, which is overseen by Catholic Social Services of the Diocese of Scranton, provides a professionally supported one-on-one mentor to youths, helping children succeed in school, consider higher education, forge better peer and family relationships, and avoid the use of drugs and alcohol.
The mentors, referred to as “Bigs”, meet with their “Littles” on set dates for three to five hours. They can share activities such as reading, nature walks, or playing board games and are encouraged to spend little money on activities, but focus on spending time together.
Children eligible for the program are usually identified through their behavior and performance in school.
For more information on Big Brothers Big Sisters of The Bridge: 570-824-8756 or go to bbbsnepa.com.
The agency is located at 33 E. Northampton St. in Wilkes-Barre and provides office hours Monday through Friday, with evening hours until 8 p.m. on Monday, Wednesday, and Thursday.
Emergency services for runaways, homeless youth, and their families are available by calling 570-824-5766 24 hours a day or contacting Help Line at 570-829-1341.
Reach Bill O’Boyle at 570-991-6118 or on Twitter @TLBillOBoyle.