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SBH'S BIG BROTHER BIG SISTER PROGRAM: MAKING A DIFFERENCE ONE CHILD AT A TIME

By: Frieda Schweky



When families are going through hardships, children can sometimes feel the brunt of it.The Big Brother Big Sister program at Sephardic Bikur Holim was established for these children who could use a little extra attention from people who care.

The program helps children belonging to families coping with divorce, financial difficulties, and behavioral or social issues. The Bigs, as the volunteers are appropriately called, are there to give the children a healthy release from these everyday stressors.

Each child, or Little, is assigned a volunteer by the program depending on their needs. Usually, the children who participate in the program range from ages seven to twelve years old and volunteers generally range from 18 to 24 years old. Before any matches can be made between a child and a volunteer, the volunteers are interviewed by SBH thoroughly so that the children can receive the appropriate match.

The volunteers then attend a kick off meeting in which they are educated on the do’s and don’ts of being a Big. This includes how to avoid certain situations that may arise, as well as role playing different scenarios. Success stories are also shared with all the volunteers to boost their confidence.

Once the Bigs and Littles are matched up, the fun can begin. Twice a month, one Sunday every other week, the program really comes to life. The first Sunday event is a one-on-one trip with a Big and Little who have a nice day adventure together and get to know each other.

The Bigs are meant to be a positive influence and mentors to their Littles. They take two Sundays out of their month to do these acts of kindness because they feel that it ultimately makes a huge impact on the child. They let the child decide the activities on these one-on-one days, which can include getting a manicure and lunch, or even a trip to the local Starbucks drive through. Bigs really take their Littles to whatever they feel would be fun.

Eventually, the relationship between the Big and Little gets to a point where the child feels comfortable enough to share some of what is going on in their lives. Whenthis happens, Bigs are there for their Littles to give them any advice they may need to help them through their hardships in life. If a Big sees a larger issue arising, they are encouraged to bring it up with SBH directly, so they can get the child the proper help they need.

The second event of the month is a group experience where all of the Bigs and Littles in the program get together for a trip. These activities are great because it gives the Littles a chance to meet up with others.

They’ve gone on fun trips like bowling, ice skating at Aviator in Brooklyn, Madame Tussaud’s Wax Museum in Manhattan, and glow in the dark mini golf, to name a few! The Big Brother Big Sister program tries to change up the trips week to week in order to keep things special for the children.

“The main purpose of these trips is just to show the kids a good time, as well as giving them the chance to feel normal and wanted,” said Joe Nakash, the co-leader of the committee. “We give them the attention they need, and really treat them like we treat our own little brothers and sisters.”

During the year, the program also hosts special events such as a fashion show for the girls and a basketball tournament for the boys. These stand-out events really add to the overall experience for the volunteers and children alike.

Joe Nakash has been a member of the committee for five years now and was a Big, himself, two years prior to that. Nakash and Sarah Natkin currently lead the program’s committee. Nakash said that the Big Brother Big Sister committee’s job takes place mostly behind the scenes making Big and Little matches, planning trips, and handling reimbursements to Bigs who spend money taking their Littles out, and so on.

“Sometimes we get calls from parents who are so grateful and even request their kid gets the same Big next year,” said Nakash.

“A big brother once noticed his Little’s Bar Mitzvah was approaching and no festivities were planned, because the family couldn’t afford the expense to celebrate properly,” recalled Nakash of an inspiring success story from the program.

“Not wanting his Little to miss out on this significant rite of passage, he went to the child’s school and arranged a small party in which he got a caterer to donate food and invited all of his school peers,” Nakash continued. “The child, the parents, and even the students were all touched by this beautiful day that the volunteer planned out of the goodness of his heart. The parents were so appreciative.”

Dalia Chera is another volunteer for the program. She said that sometimes it just comes down to a child who has a hard time with respect and understanding his or her limits. It then becomes about keeping them in check and influencing them with proper values and morals.

“It’s a unique and special program that I’m happy to be a part of. No hesed makes me feel as good as this because it’s challenging, but ultimately so fulfilling,” said Chera of her experiences at the Big Brother Big Sister program at SBH.

Chera is a new member to the committee. All the committee members look forward to continue to affect the lives of our young community members who sign up for this incredible program.

To get involved or for more information email:bigbrotherbigsister@gmail.com.

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