Like Sisters

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By Jessica Shelenberger
New Castle News
NCNewsOnline.com

Haliegh Lee needed some variety in her life.

“I wanted to do other stuff besides just hanging around with my friends,” said Lee, a 13-year-old New Castle resident, who, with her neon blue-dyed hair and sky blue-colored contacts clearly isn’t afraid to take a risk.

“We’d just walk around and do the same thing over and over again. I wanted to get out and do something,” she said.

Enter Tiffany Murphey, a 23-year-old “big sister” with Big Brothers Big Sisters of Lawrence County.

On Saturday, the organization is hosting its 21st annual Bowl for Kids’ Sake at Colonial Lanes. The fundraising event typically raises 20 to 25 percent of the organization’s annual operating budget, according to Steve Landman, director of development for Cray Youth and Family Services.

Murphey, who is an Americorps volunteer for Cray, which oversees the mentoring program, has been paired with Lee since January, after Lee’s mother, Jeanne Lee, recommended her daughter sign up. And, in those few months, Murphey has shaken up the young girl’s ordinary routine.

“I pick her up and take her places,” said Murphey, a 2010 Shenango High School graduate. “We’ve gone ice skating, we’ve played cards, we’ve gone to the movies and the mall, and we went bowling once.”

Murphey said they like to eat at Hugger Mugger’s in Shenango Township, but they’ve also eaten at Sweet Frog’s Frozen Yogurt and at Chipotle — a first for Lee.

“In the short time we’ve been together, we’ve gotten pretty close,” Murphey said. “I try to get together with her every week, and usually it’s on weekends. For me, it’s fun to share what I did with her.”

“She’s awesome,” said Lee. “Everything we do is so fun.”

Murphey and Lee’s story is one of many volunteer mentors making a difference in the lives of local youth, as Big Brothers Big Sisters program holds 62 active matches across Lawrence County, and has provided year-long volunteer mentors to more than 600 children, ages 6 to 15, since the organization started here in 1995.

“It’s an incredible organization,” said Bill Nesbitt, who has volunteered since 2008. “We’re so fortunate to have it here in our community.”

Nesbitt said he and several other members of Clen-Moore Presbyterian Church had approached Landman about volunteering — but doing it in a group setting twice a month, instead of the usual once a week.

Since getting the organization’s blessing, Nesbitt said his church has had up to nine “bigs” from the church mentoring their “littles” at one time.

“We’ve been involved for about five years, and it’s been just wonderful,” said Nesbitt. “You forget it’s missional; you just go out and have a fun time with kids.”

Nesbitt says in the more than six years he’s been with his “little,” he’s had a chance to talk to him about good decision making skills, about family, and more recently, even about dating.

“We’re not miracle workers in any way,” Nesbitt said of himself and the other volunteers. “We’re just people who care about these kids and see them over an extended period of time.

“It’s beautiful,” Nesbitt continued. “It gives them hope in the chaos that they might be living in.”

Nesbitt encourages others to get involved in Big Brothers Big Sisters.

“We should help build it up,” he said. “Go volunteer and make a difference in your community.”

Murphey said Big Brothers Big Sisters is dependent not only upon volunteers, but also those who donate funds, especially during the bowling event tomorrow.

“As a nonprofit, we really rely on those donations,” she said, adding that the volunteers and their “littles” participate in the bowling event.

Murphey said there are 59 teams of 4-6 people signed up for the event. Each participant must raise or donate a minimum of $50 to participate.