SHERIDAN — While each month includes designations for various causes and observances, many go by unnoticed by average citizens. January lists 14 different observances, including National Mentoring Month. Sheridan’s local group of Big Brothers Big Sisters of America believes that’s something worth celebrating.
Cal Furnish and Ryan Tyson-Ryan matched in April 2016 as part of the Big Brothers Big Sisters program in Sheridan. What Furnish has taught Tyson-Ryan in skills, Tyson-Ryan returned in youthful fun and opportunity. The time spent getting to know each other means more to both of them than the food they eat while together, although Tyson-Ryan admits shared meals remain one of his favorite aspects of the match.
“The program is really rewarding,” Furnish said. “The program is for kids, but it’s rewarding both ways. It leaves you with a good feeling and it’s a good way to make a connection that really matters.”
Furnish and Tyson-Ryan provide a great example of a match showing the low-key, yet beneficial nature for both the Big and Little match members.
Furnish said Tyson-Ryan helps him with projects at his job and at home. They also mix in fun activities like going to the movies.
“It’s just fun,” Furnish said. “We’re friends and we’ve done a lot of things. It’s not always big and flashy. He helps me a lot. He’s done a couple of volunteer things at the YMCA. He’s put in some hard work, and he’s been recognized by the Y for that.”
Furnish has limited time to give BBBS, but his dedication to the match and Tyson-Ryan’s patience and flexibility make for a positive experience for both males.
“(I’ve learned to) be patient and don’t get in the way when he’s running,” Tyson- Ryan joked.
Tyson-Ryan’s family remains supportive of the pairing, and Furnish remains thankful for the family’s patience with his busy schedule.
A female match within Sheridan’s BBBS, Ramona Stine and Mati Alden, experiences similar time dilemmas every so often but appreciates the weekly time spent together.
At the start of their match, Stine and Alden met together only in the site-based, school setting. Because of a school switch for Alden, the duo moved outside of the school setting and started meeting together for different activities throughout Sheridan. Both Stine and Alden see the match as mutually beneficial.
“It makes me feel younger because I’m hanging out with someone who is young,” Stine said. “It makes me go out and play tetherball. It keeps you young at heart.”
Alden appreciates the one-on-one time getting to know Stine better and also experiencing new activities in the community, like Science Saturdays.
One remaining struggle of Sheridan’s local BBBS is a lack of male volunteers. Director of community engagement Sandy Thiel said a waiting list for little brothers exists and the team hopes to minimize that as much as possible without compromising the match quality.
Fifteen of the 65 total matches currently participate in the community-based program, differentiating from the site-based program in that matches meet beyond the boundary of a school setting.
Thiel said the perception of BBBS is that every mentor needs to be young, but that is not the case for all matches in Sheridan. The oldest mentor is 82 years old.
One full-time and two part-time staff members work on a $95,000 annual budget to train mentors appropriately before being matched. After mentors receive a match, staff remains available for support throughout participation in the program.
Statistics obtained from Thiel indicate that more than 95 percent of participants maintained or improved in confidence, caring and grades, and 93.3 percent maintained or improved in competency from 2016 to 2017.
Thiel continues to seek proper matches for youth in need of a positive adult mentor. She hopes to build numbers for the relatively small group, but not without careful consideration of each match.
“(Mentors) are a good, supportive friend,” Thiel said.
Those interested in joining the program should contact Thiel at 307-274-7095.
Note: The online version of this article was updated to reflect the correct number of participants in Big Brothers Big Sisters of America in Sheridan County.