The walls of Kim Gilpatrick's Rock Falls home are covered with photographs of her four children.
In March 2012, Gilpatrick, a single mother, decided she wanted her children to have another adult figure in their lives and signed them up with Big Brothers Big Sisters.
Their experience reflects what many Sauk Valley families have seen. The girls, 10-year-old Tatum Glenn and 9-year-old Eden Glenn, were matched quickly, within a week or two, but 13-year-old Darian Gilpatrick waited nearly a year to be matched with his "big," as the mentors are called.
Because of a lack of volunteers, there's a waiting list of about 20 boys and girls, many near Darian's age, waiting to be matched with a big, said Loni McKinney, a Whiteside County program specialist. There are 20 to 40 more families who have approached her about joining the program that she hasn't started to sign up, not wanting to get their hopes up and have them wait, she added.
"I hate being the bearer of bad news, but if we have the volunteers coming in, I'd love to make the matches as fast as possible," she said. "I don't want to turn them away."
McKinney works out of a Big Brothers Big Sisters office in Davenport and handles the Sauk Valley. The group used to have a Rock Falls location, but it closed about 5 years ago.
McKinney handles matches in Lee County as well, but the group has no agreement with the Dixon schools. If there are inquiries for community-based matches, her office handles them.
It's the lack of a physical presence that leads to a lack of knowledge that adults can volunteer and area children can join, McKinney said. But it's a lack of volunteers that's having the biggest impact.
About the matches
Big Brothers Big Sisters has two types of matches: school-based and community-based.
In a school-based match, which is started through a school, the big and the "little" eat lunch together at the school a few times per week. It's a safe environment for both, McKinney said.
In the community-based match, the big and little spend a few hours each month out in the community or even at the big's home, to cook or play video games. Overnight visits aren't allowed.
The big-little relationship
Gloria Grant, 68, lives in Sterling and is a retired teacher.
She joined Big Brothers Big Sisters after a friend who was working with the organization told her it would be a good fit for her.
"I agreed to try it for a year," Grant said. "I’m in my fifth year now."
Grant and her little started as a school-based match. They ate lunch together in the school a few times a week for 3 years, but then there was a mutual desire to have their relationship move to a community-based match, so the little could spend time with her friends in school and Grant could take her out in the community or to her home to cook.
Recently, after watching the Food Network, Grant and her little made Alton Brown's macaroni and cheese.
After recently being matched with his big, Darian has gone bowling and played video games. It's little things like that that make a big difference, Kim Gilpatrick said.
The bigs "don't really need to do a lot," she said. "Just be there."
During the nearly 18 months that Tatum and Eden have been matched with their bigs, they've gone to the zoo, to a Clinton Lumberkings game, and even done combined activities with the entire family, Gilpatrick said.
They've all become friends and bonded – both bigs and the Gilpatrick family – and it all started with just a few hours each week, she said.
When Gilpatrick's youngest son, 4-year-old Rylan Stengall, turns 6, she intends to sign him up, she said.
By then, McKinney hopes to have eliminated the waiting list. She wants to double the matches by December, which is a lofty goal, but she wants to set it high, she said.
"It’s too awesome not to be passionate about," she said.
She recruits and raises awareness of the Big Brothers Big Sisters presence whenever she can, she said, and had a booth at Taste of Fiesta.
McKinney wants to eventually reopen a Rock Falls office. She can get the funding for that only if she has more matches in the area, though, and it's hard to increase matches in the area without an office, she said.
Finding the right volunteers is tough, she said. She wants to make sure that they can commit to at least a year with their little, which is why college students, who are often interested in volunteering, aren't the best fit.
"It’s not a huge time commitment, and we work around each others' schedules," Grant said. "It's been fun, and after this many years you start to develop a relationship."
For more information about Big Brothers Big Sisters in the area, or to get involved, go to www.bbbs-mv.org or call Whiteside County Program Specialist Loni McKinney at 815-441-9118.