Her Voice: Director of Big Brothers Big Sisters program says work is ‘incredibly rewarding’
FARGO – Brightly colored tiles drawn with rainbows, suns and people holding hands adorn the shelf above Susan Smith’s desk.
The 47-year-old West Fargo woman has been program director of the Big Brothers Big Sisters program of The Village Family Service Center for more than 22 years.
“What interested me was working with kids and wanting to make a difference,” she said.
The program is geared toward children who need additional adult support. Children who go through the program tend to make better decisions, do better in school and have better relationships with their families and peers, Smith said.
“It’s incredibly rewarding to think that, hopefully, I’ve had something to do with that,” Smith said. “It never ceases to amaze me that something as simple as an adult spending time with a child can have such a huge impact on their lives.”
As the program’s director, Smith said she works on a variety of tasks, such as managing day-to-day work, working with the advisory committee, speaking to organizations, recruiting volunteers, attending fundraising events and raising awareness about the program.
One of the biggest changes, which happened toward the beginning of Smith’s work with the group, she said, was affiliating with the national program, Big Brothers Big Sisters of America.
“It’s been a good choice because they have the highest quality standards to follow,” she said. “By being affiliated with them, we get the brand recognition, but we also are ensuring that we’re providing the highest quality service to the youth in our community.”
Most of the group’s funding comes from the local community, she said.
The Big Brothers Big Sisters program has two parts.
In the school-based component, adult volunteer mentors spend time with kids, called their “Littles,” at a school over the noon hour or after school. It serves first- through fifth-graders at Madison and Jefferson Elementary Schools in Fargo.
In the community-based option, the mentors, called “Bigs,” spend time with their Littles in the community doing activities like going to a park, movie or restaurant. It typically serves kids ages 6 through 14.
Volunteers have to be at least 18 years old and are often right out of college, but Smith said they have volunteers in their 70s, too.
Two people who had been Littles recently volunteered to become Bigs, Smith said.
“We know that they recognize the difference that the mentor made in their lives,” she said. “They really know what it’s all about. I just think it’s incredible that they’re willing to give back like that.”
Smith said there are boys waiting to be matched with Bigs, but there aren’t enough male volunteers to pair with the kids. The program also has more women volunteers than little sisters.
While staff members cannot serve as Bigs, Smith is also part of the Fargo Optimist Club and volunteers at her church.
How to help
To volunteer or enroll in the Big Brothers Big Sisters program, call (701) 451-4877 or look online at www.thevillagefamily.org/bbbs
Her Voice is a weekly article about women in or from our area and how they make an impact on the world around them. If you know someone SheSays should feature in HerVoice, email Tracy Frank at firstname.lastname@example.org.