Big Brother/Big Sisters of Northwest Florida seeking servicemembers as volunteers

Hurlburt Field, Fla. -- “It is easier to build strong children than to repair broken men”-- Frederick Douglass

Eleven-year-old Destiny looks forward to her time with her Big Sis, Staff Sgt. Leah Cloakey. They can read books together, maybe get an ice cream or just walk and talk. The best thing is that as her Big Sis, Cloakey is a positive role model that just wants to spend time with Destiny. That means a lot to a kid and, unfortunately, is rarer than it should be.

“Bigs start something beautiful,” said Stephanie Yancey of the Big Brother/Big Sisters program of Northwest Florida. “As a Big, a mentor gives a child an opportunity to see beyond his or her everyday world and dream. For just a few hours a couple of times a month, a Big can give a Little the invaluable gift of friendship.”

Yancey likes military Big Brothers and Sisters. “I love it when they take their Little on base. It shows the ‘Little’ a whole community of goal-oriented, dedicated individuals. We have more Littles requesting military Bigs than we have volunteers.”

What was it like when Destiny and Leah first got together?

“I was a little nervous, but excited at the same time,” said Cloakey. “On our first outing, we went to the park in Ft. Walton Beach. We read signs, she played on the playground and then we sat by the water and she told me about her family and school. Since then, we have shared lot of different activities to include going bowling, baseball games, the zoo, learning cooking -- all sorts of things.”

All of this is making an impact. Studies show that children with role models are more likely to improve in school and in their relationships with family and friends. They are also less likely to skip school or get involved with drugs or alcohol abuse.

“The military is the backbone of our program in this area,” said Yancey. “We are looking for experiences rather than just buying the Little something. The best skill a Big can bring to a Little is just to be a good listener.”

While it is important to be a good listener – it’s also important to understand that the program is a time commitment.

“When I have a really long weekend, I might want to lay on the couch instead of getting up and going out, but because I know how much it means to her, I always honor my commitments and I always end up enjoying myself as well,” said Cloakey. “It can be tough when there is a difficult situation at home or to see your ‘Little’ not do well at school. The most I can do as a Big is to help her through it…to be there as a non-biased third party and help her best I can.”

There are over 200 children in Northwest Florida ready to be matched with a caring, supportive Big Brother or Big Sister. Seventy percent of those children are boys waiting for a Big Brother.

If interested in volunteering with the Big Brother/Big Sister program of Northwest Florida, please contact Stephanie Yancey, 850-664-5437 or visit