Big Brothers Big Sisters of Martha’s Vineyard hosted a fund-raising breakfast Thursday morning, gathering together board members, current program participants and new volunteers at Farm Neck Golf Club for a hearty meal of scrambled eggs and sausage with a side of uplifting stories.
“The goal of this meeting was to . . . kind of get the fire relit under the organization,” said Connie Alexander, co-chairman of the board for the Island Big Brothers Big Sisters organization. As was the case with many Island businesses and nonprofit organizations, the recession took its toll on Big Brothers Big Sisters, costing the organization its old office space on Beach Road Extension.
“We don’t have signage out on the streets like we used to,” said Mrs. Alexander, “so we need to get ourselves known again.”
“We are here and we are open for business, and we want to help as many children as possible,” said Sonia Schonning, executive director for Big Brothers Big Sisters of Cape Cod and the Islands, stressing the need for volunteers, referrals, and business sponsors.
The program, which matches children (Littles) with volunteer adult mentors (Bigs) to help build positive one-on-one relationships, was founded in 1904. An Island chapter of the program opened in 1974; it focuses primarily on the special needs of children in single-parent homes. There are currently 48 Big and Little matches on the Vineyard, according to Ms. Schonning, and volunteers spend approximately 10 hours per month with their Littles.
Both Ms. Schonning and Mrs. Alexander spoke at the breakfast, as did Mrs. Alexander’s board cochairman Nancy Gardella. Longtime Big Brothers Ted Collins and Mike McCourt provided remarks on their experiences as volunteers, while board member Wanda-Jean Myers offered a parent’s perspective on the program. Mrs. Myers’s three children have all participated in Big Brothers Big Sisters. Jessey, 18, has been with her Big Sister Jeannie Pearson for 10 years. Joey, 16, was matched with Mr. McCourt in 2002.
“Mike is a part of our family,” said Mrs. Myers, who was joined at her breakfast table by Jessey, Joey and Mr. McCourt. “To give my child that opportunity, that means so much,” she said, adding that her children are “much more focused on the positive” since becoming part of Big Brothers Big Sisters.
During his talk, Mr. McCourt told numerous stories of his time as a Big Brother, drawing laughs when he noted that his love of NASCAR has rubbed off on Joey over the past eight years.
“I’m not sure if that’s a good thing or a bad thing,” he said with a smile.
More laughs came when Mr. McCourt mentioned the one area where his influence meant little.
“I still haven’t convinced him to be a Red Sox fan.”
To volunteer as a Big, refer a child as a Little, or sign up as a business sponsor, please contact Big Brothers Big Sisters case manager Betsy Hauck at 508-696-5497.