Being a mentor was a chance to change a young person’s life.
When Meaghan Rysdale signed up for Big Brother Big Sisters, she pictured herself as a wise guide for the young person she was paired with. She could help them with life struggles, give advice and challenge them to try new things.
But she never envisioned that her Little, 11-year-old Cici Daniels, would do just the same for her.
“It’s been a two-way street for us,” Rysdale said. “When I first signed up, I thought it was going to be mostly me doing mentoring and working to help them with whatever they needed. But honestly, I think Cici has helped me in more ways than I could have imagined.”
Rysdale and Daniels had a chance to share their unique bond during a special event Wednesday hosted by the City of Greenwood and Big Brothers Big Sisters of Central Indiana. Greenwood Mayor Mark Myers and the parks department had partnered with the organization to help bring in more people to be mentors.
Those interested in volunteering for the Big Brothers Big Sisters program came to the Greenwood Fieldhouse to learn more about the program, as well as to meet with existing “Bigs” and the kids they have been paired with.
The event was an opportunity to not only see the Big Brothers Big Sisters program in action, but to help fill a void that affected local children.
“There is a huge need for the youth in Johnson County to have adults who care about them, that want to help them bring up their lives in a better way, to show them love, compassion and care,” Myers said. “I’ve seen this in other communities, and seen how well it works, so I wanted to promote it and continue to work towards that.”
Big Brothers Big Sisters is a national organization that pairs children in need with adult role models. They meet for about five hours each month, doing activities such as hiking, playing sports, fishing and going to the movies. Bigs help them with homework, or just hang out and talk with them.
Potential Bigs must be 19 years old or older, be able to meet with a child on average two to four times a month for a minimum of four hours per month and commit to the program for at least a year. Applicants must be willing to complete an interview process, which includes a background check.
Research has shown that mentoring helps children achieve greater success academically, overcome behavioral issues and develop the confidence and vision that will provide a better future. After 18 months in the program, children are 46% less likely to use illegal drugs, 27% less likely to begin using alcohol and 52% less likely to skip school, according to a study conducted by Big Brothers Big Sisters.
“We know that the Littles need that support that mentors can offer,” Myers said.
The need for mentors within Big Brothers Big Sisters is dire. In Johnson County, 87% of the kids waiting to be paired with a Big are boys, and many wait an average of around two years to be matched with a mentor.
With so many young people waiting to be matched, Myers reached out to the organization to see how he could help.
“It really is so important, especially in Johnson County. We know we have a severe need for mentors. There’s almost a two-year backlog in trying to find mentors, especially adult men who can come in and volunteer,” he said.
In planning the event, Myers worked with Big Brothers Big Sisters to create incentives for people to volunteer as mentors. Part of that was presenting 100 free guest passes to the Greenwood Fieldhouse on Wednesday. The passes would go to pairs of Bigs and Littles, allowing them to take advantage of the amenities offers, from walking the track to shooting hoops to trying out batting cages and golf simulators.
“(Big Brothers Big Sisters of Central Indiana) is excited to continue building relationships with Johnson County organizations, businesses, and most importantly, volunteers,” said Caitlin Bain, chief development officer for Big Brothers Big Sisters of Central Indiana. “We hope this event and the support of Mayor Myers, inspire you to take the first step to learn about what a gift it is to be a Big.”
Rysdale and Daniels took time on Wednesday to check out the facility — the first time either had been inside it. They took a lap around the track, poked their heads into the golf simulator pods and watched people playing indoor soccer.
The Fieldhouse offered another option for them during their regular meet-ups.
Rysdale had been involved with Big Brothers Big Sisters for about two years. She signed up after moving to Greenwood and realized during research for her doctorate degree that she wanted to do something actively helping communities in need.
“I asked myself, how can I get more involved to change these communities that I’m already impacting with the research I’m doing,” she said. “It just so happened that I was watching the news, and they were running a special on recruitment (for Big Brothers Big Sisters).”
Rysdale signed up, went through the interview and screening process, and waited to be matched with a Little. Because it was during the pandemic, her first contact with Daniels was virtual, and they talked and introduced themselves on video chat.
But finally, in September 2021, they had their first in-person meeting.
“It’s been fun. I’ve gotten to try a lot of things that I was scared to do, that I might have never have,” said Daniels, who attends Clark-Pleasant Middle School.
Big Brothers Big Sisters of Central Indiana has helped them do activities they might never have without the program. Rysdale and Daniels have attended Colts and Pacers games through the organization. Big Brothers Big Sisters has hosted art events at their office, and had pizza and game night through the group.
“It’s happier having Meaghan around. I have things to do in my spare time, when I can go out with Meaghan and do fun stuff like that,” Daniels said.
One of their upcoming activities is swimming with dolphins at the Indianapolis Zoo.
“One stigma that I’ve found in trying to recruit friends and neighbors is that they think there’s a big cost involved to be able to do this kind of stuff. But the organization tries to give us a lot of free tickets so we can do these at no cost,” Rysdale said.
The experience has been a positive one for Daniels. At the same time, she’s also helped steer Rysdale into trying new things. She has been one of the biggest supporters of Rysdale’s new business, a Greenwood-based educational consulting firm Hoosier Academic Coaching.
“I didn’t know whether to take the leap and do it. But she kept telling me, no, you can do it. She knew it was going to be great. She was a huge motivator,” Rysdale said.
The pair wants to use their experience to help recruit others into the Big Brothers Big Sisters program.
“It’s provided me with a sense of community. When I moved to Greenwood from Bloomington, I felt disconnected as to what was going on. Big Brothers helped me make that connection, not only with someone here in the local community, but doing something where I felt I was providing a resource to someone. That has been rewarding in itself,” Rysdale said.
How to get involved
Here is a look at some requirements and information about signing up to be a Big or Little in the Big Brothers Big Sisters program:
Be 19 years old or older
Be able to meet with a child on average two to four times a month, for a minimum of four hours per month
Commit for at least a year
Must be willing to complete interview process, including background check
For complete volunteer requirements, go to bebigforkids.org/volunteer. For more information, contact Charles Stringer, volunteer outreach and engagement coordinator, at [email protected] or 317.472.3720.
How to sign up to be a little brother or sister:
Anyone interested can go to bebigforkids.org to sign up online, or contact Casey Campbell, senior director of enrollment and matching, at [email protected] or 317-472-3737.