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Big way to build positive relationships

Morgan Hamilton has played the role of big sister for most of her life. She is the oldest of three children so the Oak Harbor Middle School seventh-grader, looking for a change, sought out someone to look up to.

Back when she was in the fourth grade, she signed up for the Big Brother Big Sister program. She was paired with Catherine Filoteo and the two have been friends ever since.

“I wanted somebody that understands me,” Hamilton said during lunchtime early Thursday afternoon. She found that someone, and now Hamilton and Filoteo still spend lunchtime together every Thursday. Filoteo takes classes at Skagit Valley College through the Running Start program, which allows her to show up for Hamilton’s lunch.

Hamilton said they two have have hung out after school just for fun and have attended various events sponsored by Big Brothers Big Sisters.

During the summers, the duo don’t see each other much but they still keep in contact via e-mail.

Filoteo became a Big Sister in order to fulfill the graduation requirement of four hours of community service. She quickly surpassed the minimum requirement. She enjoyed being a Big Sister so much that she kept up her relationship with Hamilton.

“I started liking it so I continued doing it,” Filoteo said. She is a junior at Oak Harbor High School and she plans to attend the University of Washington when she graduates.

Hamilton is one of the thousands of youth who have been matched with a Big Brother or Big Sister since the nonprofit organization began operating in Oak Harbor in 1999.

The group matches students with other students or with community members.

For Hamilton and Filoteo, their pairing is beneficial because the two are close in age and the mentor is able to understand what what the younger teen is going through.

“It actually works really nice in their case,” said Peggy Dyer, executive director of Big Brothers Big Sisters.

Since 1999, Big Brothers Big Sisters has found matches for approximately 2,000 youth. In 2006, 225 youth were matched with a mentor. So far this year, 200 have found matches. Dyer said approximately half of the Big Brothers and Big Sisters are community members while the other half are students.

Students participating provide one-on-one time once a week throughout the school year. Teachers identify the children who would benefit from a volunteer. The pairs meet during or after school depending on the locations of their schools. In addition to building a lasting friendship, high school volunteers receive credit, build their college resume and learn about the importance of service.

Community-based adult volunteers meet with their little brother or sister several times a month where they develop their relationship and the children get exposure to ways to cope with everyday challenges.

The week of April 15 through 21 is National Volunteer Week that recognizes the impact of volunteers throughout the nation. The recognition week began in 1974 when President Nixon signed an executive order establishing the event.

Big Brothers Big Sisters of Island County is a nonprofit organization that places caring volunteers with children in need.

The agency is holding a fundraising event today, April 21. The annual Bowl for Kids’ Sake goes from 9:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. at Oak Bowl in Oak Harbor. It continues again April 28 at Freeland Lanes. Dyer said that she would like every participating bowler to bring in at least $100. She hopes the events will raise approximately $30,000 that will benefit Big Brother Big Sister activities.

For more information about Big Brothers Big Sisters, call 279-0644 or e-mail bbbs@whidbey.net.

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