Kathy Maca joined the Big Pals-Little Pals mentoring program because she knew there was a definitive need for more positive adult/child interactions in Columbus.
Her own grandchildren live in Lincoln and are blessed in terms of having all of their immediate emotional needs met, she said.
“They want for nothing,” Maca said of her own grandchildren. “And I have had friends who were Big Pals and I really wanted to do something to help someone else, and I knew that the need was there.”
Earlier this week, Maca was honored by the organization when she was named Big Pal of the Year during a banquet held inside of The Oak Room at The Friedhof Building in downtown Columbus. Maca and approximately 30 other adult mentors 19 years or older are currently matched with children in kindergarten through high school.
“It’s just another adult in their corner,” Big Pals-Little Pals Executive Director Andrea Holly said of the program’s benefit. “A lot of the kids come from single-parent households where mom is working and they don’t have the one-on-one interaction as much as they need. And it’s great for them to have an adult role model who they can look up to and who helps them be the best they can be.”
Maca was nominated for the award by her Little Pal, Mariah. In a nomination letter Holly read aloud to the few dozen people in attendance, she highlighted how Maca makes the 15-year-old girl feel cared about and cherished.
“Her Little Pal says that she is always there for her and that Kathy loves to listen to her play the flute and piano, and supports her with all of the other things that she does,” Holly said. “Mariah and Kathy have been together for two years and Mariah says that her Big Pal always has time for her and loves her like she is her own child.”
Being a Big Pal typically requires a year-long time commitment and a few hours out of most weeks to spend with their mentee. Holly noted that many matches have been together for as long as five to 10 years, and many times, those relationships extend far beyond the program once Little Pals complete high school.
“Our mentors are all 19 years or older and have had a background check and gone through an interview process,” Holly said. “Really, anyone who has the motivation to be a mentor can do it. It doesn’t take any crazy special skills to be a mentor. You just need to have a few extra hours in the week to spend time with them and support them through any challenges they have and just teach them.”
Holly said that she and her cohorts typically reach out to area schools a few times yearly to fill in administrators about how they are looking for Little Pals to pair with responsible, caring adults in the community. While that produces matches, a great deal of the time children become involved directly through a loved one who sees the benefits of the mentoring service.
No children are forced to participate – they have to be willing to spend time with their mentor on their own accord.
Maca said that she feels like she has benefited from the partnership just as much as her Little Pal. They have many interests in common. From making arts and crafts, hitting the swimming pool or baking and decorating cookies together, it’s always a fun experience for the pair.
She said she never expected to be recognized for her efforts. She spends time with her mentee because it’s a priority, something she enjoys doing to make her young friend’s life a little bit better.
“So yeah, I was pretty shocked when I found out about this,” Maca said.
Sam Pimper is the news editor of The Columbus Telegram. Reach him via email at email@example.com.