Martin’s Point Partners with Big Brothers Big Sisters of Southern Maine to make a difference in the lives of local children.
“Every kid deserves a shot,” says Michelle Gallitto, Martin’s Point Health Care employee. That’s why she shares an hour with her ‘Little sister’ at a Portland school every week.
Michelle volunteers with Big Brothers Big Sisters of Southern Maine on a program that connects Presumpscot Elementary School and Martin’s Point Health Care to provide one-on-one mentoring to local children who struggle with school work, social challenges, or social issues.
Michelle has two young daughters of her own. “Even before I had my own children I cared about kids. And I wanted to try to level the playing field for some of them,” says Michelle, who has worked at Martin’s Point for six years.
Trusted allies, listeners, friends
“Time and attention are the common things our volunteers bring to the table,” says Jessica Dolan, BBBS program manager. “Each volunteer also brings special skills, traits and talents. A Big is a trusted ally or guide, a good listener, a positive role model, and a caring, responsible older friend.”
Littles come from a variety of socioeconomic levels, ethnic backgrounds, family structures and locations. “While their backgrounds and personalities are unique, every child can benefit from these one-to-one friendships,” says Dolan.
“Growing up is tough,” says Martin’s Point employee and volunteer Louise Neuts. “I still remember positive and negative things people said to me as a kid – they can really stick with you and make a profound difference in your life. I wanted to be able to make a positive difference.”
Louise began mentoring a third-grader in January, 2019. She and her Little often make jewelry or draw. (“She is a fabulous artist and I am not. She is teaching me,” chuckles Louise.) In spring, they planted sunflowers and followed their progress. They talk about books they like.
“I’m pretty sure Harry Potter will be one of our books this year,” says the 13-year Martin’s Point veteran. “She is a great, great kid, a wonderful artist and a top-shelf reader. I love to see her face light up when she sees me.”
“I love to see her face light up when she sees me.”
Michelle started mentoring in April 2019, when she was paired with a third-grader from Portland. They meet weekly in the school library during lunch and recess to do crafts and play games. “She’s very imaginative,” says Michelle. “I love her spunky energy.”
The big return
Volunteers undergo a fairly extensive screening process that helps make sure they’re matched with students who have similar interests. After a 60- to 90-hour training, they start weekly meetings with their Little Brother or Sister that continue throughout the school year. The BBBS staff is always available for guidance and support.
“We have great resources at BBBS and at the school, so if a kid drops something that feels heavy or a tricky issue comes up and you don’t know what to do, there’s help,” says Louise.
The benefits for Littles are many: making academic strides, strengthening socioemotional skills, and steering away from risky choices. “Helping our students grow in these areas can only strengthen our greater community,” says Dolan.
Michelle participates because she cares about kids and wanted a deeper tie to this community. “But really, it’s a win-win,” she says. When you invest in them, they give back to you in so many ways, too.”
“It’s always a bright spot in my day,” adds Louise.
This doesn’t surprise Dolan a bit. “I commonly hear from our volunteers how much more they get out of the program than they originally believed they would,” she says.
Making it work
Both Michelle and Louise thought seriously about the commitment before signing up – the last thing they wanted to do was disappoint a youngster. And the Martin’s Point volunteer-paid-time-off benefit goes a long way to help employees overcome the time hurdle.
“I would never have been able to do this without my volunteer time,” says Louise. “We are all so busy. But Martin’s Point really sees the benefits of volunteering for the community and for its employees.”
“It’s one hour a week,” says Michelle. “I schedule it on my calendar with a note not to book over it, and I protect it firmly. If I can make a small difference in this girl’s life, why wouldn’t I?”
Would you like to get involved? New mentors are welcome and needed! To learn more about volunteering with Big Brothers Big Sisters, visit their website:
Big Brothers Big Sisters of Southern Maine – https://www.somebigs.org/
Big Brothers Big Sisters of Mid Maine – http://www.bbbsmidmaine.org/
Big Brothers Big Sisters of New Hampshire – https://www.bbbsnh.org/