Big Pals-Little Pals finds itself in a peculiar situation for the first time in its multi-decade history in Columbus: With tons of advocates and a growing need, but trouble meeting the demand.
“We get a lot of support, but we just don’t get enough volunteers to meet the need,” said Andrea Holly, executive director of Big Pals-Little Pals of Greater Columbus.
The local nonprofit’s mission is to provide kids with a caring role model to promote self-improvement and to build positive values and relationships throughout the community. It matches young kids (“Little Pals”) with adult mentors (“Big Pals”), who enjoy activities together for a few hours each week. The organization currently has about 35 matches of Big Pals with Little Pals; however, Holly said that figure is actually down from prior years.
But it’s not because there isn’t demand; the waiting list is gradually increasing each month.
“We have a waiting list of 10 kids and I expect that to grow, so we really need more volunteers to come in,” Holly said. “We need to boost those numbers for volunteers. We need to gain some traction there.”
To that end, Holly and the local Big Pals-Little Pals Board of Directors are preparing to wine and sort-of dine residents who have an interest in becoming a Big Pal or just want to learn more about the nonprofit with a gathering from 6-8 p.m. Jan. 17 inside the Brickside Room at The Friedhof Building, 1270 27th Ave. in Columbus. Attendees will be treated to a glass of wine and a meat and cheese spread as part of it.
“This is something we’ve never done before,” Holly said. “When people meet me and learn what I do, they often say, ‘Oh my gosh, that’s really cool. I always thought about being a volunteer.’ But they don’t know what the next step is or what’s involved … So I’m hopeful we can talk and they can ask questions and get more information.”
Attending the event doesn’t mean you’re locked in, though, she stressed.
“There is totally no pressure,” Holly said. “You don’t have to sign-up for anything, commit to anything. It’s more for if you ever thought about it, this is the place to go.”
Being a Big Pal can be pretty rewarding, though. Holly should know. The Columbus native was one herself back when she was still a Discoverer.
“It was a lot of fun. I was a cheerleader at the time,” she recalled. “That was really cool that I got to do it.”
That partially inspired her to study child youth and family services at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, where she eventually earned her degree and before long landed a job as assistant director of operations for Big Brothers Big Sisters of America’s Lincoln chapter.
In May 2018, she took her current position in Columbus (Big Pals-Little Pals is a smaller, non-affiliated version of Big Brothers Big Sisters) to be closer to her family and make a difference in her hometown.
“I really like community-based mentoring. I really fell into the job in Lincoln, but I grew up here and saw this opportunity,” she said. “I want to breathe some new life into this and make this organization fun because what we do is fun – volunteers take kids bowling, go to the Y. We want this to be fun and something people can enjoy.
“We have a need for mentors, and we have a lot of kids who could use a stable and inspiring adult in their lives.”
All Holly wants is for people to stop by on Jan. 17.
“If nothing else, it’s an excuse to go out with friends and have a glass of wine,” she said, with a smile. “And you can learn about what we do.”
Mentors must be at least 19 years of age, have a valid driver’s license and a reliable vehicle, as well as provide references and pass a background check before being considered.
For more information, call or text Holly at 402-910-8334 or email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Matt Lindberg is the managing editor of The Columbus Telegram. Reach him via email at matt.lindberg@lee. net.