Brenda Bundy is used to goodbyes. Twice now, Bundy's had to part from close friends who were almost like family. But she keeps coming back for more. That's because the Vineland woman is a volunteer with Big Brothers Big Sisters of America. While Bundy was sad when two of her earlier little sisters had to relocate, she also knows the impact she's having on these young lives is worth the personal pain. That's why she's now big sister to D'Anna Edwards, 13, of Vineland, who is being raised alone by her grandfather.
"I find volunteering to be so rewarding," Bundy said. "I've enjoyed seeing D'Anna grow socially and academically over the past year. She is at that age where she is becoming a young woman, and I love being able to help her with the transition. She always says at the end of our time together that she has had a really fun day. I just find the entire experience to be very fulfilling. I get as much out of the program as D'Anna does. I think when you give of your time, you take it more seriously than when you get paid for it because it is something you really want to do so you put your full effort into it."
Bundy, 60, is one of 5,000 volunteers working in Big Brothers Big Sisters in southern New Jersey. The program aids at-risk youth of single parent families, low income families and incarcerated parents by providing them with an adult mentor who provides some consistency and direction in their lives.
The national nonprofit organization was founded more than a century ago by a young New York City court clerk named Ernest Coulter who recognized that caring adults could help many of these kids coming through his courtroom stay out of trouble.
At about the same time, the members of a group called Ladies of Charity were befriending girls who had come through the New York City Children's Court. That group would later become Catholic Big Sisters. Both groups worked independently until 1977, when the two groups joined forces and became Big Brothers Big Sisters of America. The national organization is based in Philadelphia. There are 400 local agencies across the country - including 10 in New Jersey - serving about 260,000 children aged 6 to 18.
Volunteers spend one- to four-hours with their littles twice a week.
Volunteers must go through detailed background checks and training. They are matched with littles who have the same likes and dislikes and ethnic background if possible. Children are matched mostly with same sex mentors although rarely a boy may be matched with a woman, but never the other way around.
Always there to help
Bob DiBiase, 60, of Toms River, has been matched with Charles Joseph "CJ" Dominski, of Barnegat, since June. He joined Big Brothers Big Sisters of Ocean County a little more than a year ago.
"I had heard of the organization but didn't really know all they did until I attended a fundraiser for them," DiBiase said. "As a child from a broken home myself (his mother passed away when he was 7), I know how important it is for a child to have role models and consistency in his life. I wanted to do something for the community and to make a difference. With Big Brothers Big Sisters, I know I am making a difference for one little boy."
DiBiase and Dominski have been fishing, boating, to swim meets, the YMCA and Battleship New Jersey. DiBiase, who imports ceramics now but is also retired from a job at Verizon, loves to do home improvement projects and plans to involve the 9-year-old in helping. Dominski has had some difficulties in school with older students teasing younger ones and DiBiase said he is trying to help the boy through that as well.
"CJ knows he can pick up the phone and call me anytime about anything," DiBiase said. "We have just a great relationship. We have the same interests. "
DiBiase said he feels Dominski gets a sense of security knowing someone is always there to help him with whatever he is going through.
"We're just matched perfectly," DiBiase said. "BBBS coordinators have a mission, and they make it simple and so rewarding to get involved. The goal is for me to stay matched with CJ until he is 18, and I definitely see that happening. "
Helping in life,
helping with school
Gary Cohen, 51, of Linwood, knows he is making a difference in the life of his little brother, Tashad McClennion, 10, of Somers Point, because of the many calls he receives during the week.
"I just saw Tashad Sunday and already Monday he was calling me wanting to get together, so I must be doing something right," Cohen said. "I had one other little boy, but he didn't really want to be involved so we just didn't connect. But Tashad and I felt an instant connection the first time we met. We have the same interests. We've been to several Big Brothers events and Tashad likes to just hang out at my house and do things like mow the lawn and go out for ice cream. These are just simple things you can do with a child, but with a child like Tashad, it makes a huge difference."
McClennion is being raised by his godmother so he needed a male role model in his life.
"I wanted to give back, especially since my own two kids are now grown," Cohen said. "I have a very big heart. Many kids are being raised in family situations that aren't normal (two-parent) households, and they need the support of another caring adult. They need guidance. I have the time and I enjoy helping out a child. It gives me a real sense of fulfillment. I am helping a child who otherwise might fall through the cracks. I don't try to be his father. I just try to fill that gap."
Cohen, a salesman, and McClennion get together at least once a week. McClennion said he most loves just hanging out at his big brother's house.
"I love to play with his two dogs," McClennion said. "I like that I always have something to do. If I'm bored I can call Gary and we can do things together. He's helped me get out of trouble in school by helping me with my homework, too."
To volunteer, visitwww.BigBrothersBigSisters.org
or call 215-567-7000.
To volunteer for Big Brothers Big Sisters of Cumberland and Salem Counties, call 856-692-0916 or e-mail:
The office is located at 1944 E. Landis Ave., Vineland. See: www.bbbscsnj.org.
To volunteer in Ocean County call 732-905-5349. The office is located at 85 Williams St., Lakewood NJ 08701. See: www.bbbsoc.org.Contact Debra Rech: