The Watonwan County Big Buddy program takes children who are at high-risk or just want to partake in some activities after school and matches them with mentors. These mentors provide activities for the children which include fishing, going to a movie, shopping at the mall or something as simple as baking cookies.
“Some of these kids have never done it and that’s a really big deal to them,” said Big Buddy program coordinator Jen Harris.
Harris has been coordinator for the Big Buddy program 11 years. She began shortly after the program itself was first introduced in 1999, when St. James received a Youth Intervention Prevention grant with the help of State Representative Bob Gunther.
The Big Buddy program now offers more activities than when Harris took over the program. Where there were only one or two group projects a year there are now two or three group projects a month. This is, in part, due to the growing number of children joining the program.
“It used to be high-risk kids that joined the program, now it’s for any person who wants to be a part of it,” said Harris. “With all that is going on in the world today, any child could be considered at risk.”
A majority of the monthly activities are free for the children, but some of the larger activities have a small fee. Harris said the fee is nominal and is basically in place to ensure that parents get their children to the activity on time.
School year activities range from a Big Buddy Lunch to swimming at the indoor pool in St. James or a Christmas Party in December. Activities are also provided during the summer months. The Big Buddy program believes in service learning and children help in St. James with the Relay for Life or in Butterfield with the Voss Park project. Children also take field trips to the Minnesota State Zoo, Fairmont Aquatic Park, SkyZone and more. The idea is to get children to experiences activities they wouldn’t normally have the chance to experience.
With the number of children enrolled in the program now into the 100s and growing, the Watonwan County Big Buddy program is constantly looking for good mentors to volunteer and help change a child’s life. County-wide there are about 25 mentors for the children.
“A good mentor is a person who cares for a child like they were their own,” said Harris. “No matter their background.”
Many mentors stick with the program for a long period of time. Mentoring a child from a young age through high school and keeping in touch even beyond high school. There have also been children who were mentored who become mentors and pay it forward – providing a positive influence in a child’s life.
Page 2 of 2 - Interested candidates can contact Jen Harris at 507-920-6486. Those candidates who submit an application, pass the background and reference check and are selected to join the Watonwan County Big Buddy program will have the opportunity to help children experience the world.