BIG BROTHERS BIG SISTERS OPERATION BIGS - MILITARY MENTORING PROGRAM

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Volunteers needed in East County and Tierrasanta

By Milvi Chao

July 8, 2015 (San Diego’s East County)--Some friendships take years to grow, but when Little Brother Juan-Antonio met his Big Brother Jay in 2012 through Big Brothers Big Sister’s Operation Big program, the pair hit it off immediately. Operation Bigs is a one-to-one mentoring program for military children ages 7-17, the first of its kind in the nation.

At the time, seven-year-old Juan-Antonio was overwhelmed by the absence of his father, who was deployed oversees. Nineteen-year-old Jay was an active-duty marine, who as the youngest member of his family, and had often longed for a younger brother. He was eager to serve as a role model for a child in need of extra support. 

Almost immediately, Juan-Antonio’s mother sensed that she could trust Jay. “Jay has always been very responsible and respectful,” she says. “I never have to worry about Juan-Antonio when Jay is with him.”

At first, when the two met weekly, Juan-Antonio was interested in only one activity: playing Legos. “Juan-Antonio can create a whole new world in his mind,” says Jay, who admired his Little Brother’s imagination. In a room full of Bigs and Littles, the pairs’ laughter often drew smiles from those around them.

As time passed, through Jay’s encouragement, Juan-Antonio became comfortable exploring new activities, including wall ball and football. “[Jay] even taught me to play basketball,” says Juan-Antonio. Jay paid special attention to teach his Little Brother about fairness and sportsmanship.

Juan-Antonio’s new found confidence allowed him to reach out to other Littles in the program. Jay recalls how Juan-Antonio was especially sensitive to other children who might be feeling lonely. Juan-Antonio’s mother also noticed a change in her son: “He was smiling a lot more after he would meet with Jay,” she says.

Today, Juan-Antonio remembers how those early months with Jay brightened his life. “When my dad was deployed and I had no one to hang out or play Legos with… Jay always cheered me up,” Jay too felt the positive impact of their friendship. “I look forward to every Tuesday only because I feel like I really am making a difference in his life, just like he is in mine,” says Jay. “Being Juan-Antonio’s Big Brother has been one of the best experiences of my life.”

Since its inception, Operation Bigs has served more than 1,400 Navy and Marine Corps children. The program operates at eight schools in four communities around San Diego County, including Camp Pendleton, Point Loma, Coronado and Tierrasanta. This year, it expanded service to 100 additional military children throughout San Diego County, through Big Brothers Big Sisters traditional Community-Based program. Operation Bigs enrolls military dependents between the ages of 7- 17 at NO cost to families. Applications are taken year-around.

Youth enrolled in Big Brothers Big Sisters improve in school and in relationships with their peers and parents. The need for caring, committed mentors remains urgent. Operation Bigs is recruiting active duty, veteran, and civilian volunteers from ages 18 to 85, who have a heart for military children.

In the Site-Based program, volunteers spend one hour, once a week meeting with a child at an elementary school or community center for the school year. There is a need for volunteers in the Tierrasanta & East County area, where Operation Bigs is launching two new sites in the fall of 2015.

For more information on volunteering or enrolling your child, please go to www.SDBigs.org or call (858) 746 9169.