CHARLESTON -- Mid-Illinois Big Brothers Big Sisters volunteer Madalyn Schoonover quickly transformed a bare tabletop into a craft area for her "little sister" Saturday afternoon at the Charleston Carnegie Public Library.
Her "little sister," 6-year-old Keshae Cardwell of Charleston, then began turning construction paper into Valentine's Day decorations, some of which will likely be added to their growing binder of past holiday craft projects.
"I have an entire backpack dedicated to craft making that I keep in my car 24-7," said Schoonover, who is a Charleston resident and a sophomore at Eastern Illinois University.
Schoonover said she started volunteering with Mid-Illinois Big Brothers Big Sisters in summer 2016 and she has been paired up as a "big sister" mentor with Keshae ever since then. Schoonover said she tries to get together with Keshae at least once a week, or every other week during busy times with her EIU studies and work.
Keshae, who is a first grader at Carl Sandburg Elementary School, said that she always looks forward to her "big sister" arriving and that they have a lot of fun together.
"I am bored when she does not come get me. I am very, very bored," Keshae lamented.
During the winter, the two of then often work on crafts and school projects at the Charleston library or at Starbucks. Keshae said her favorite Starbucks drink is the strawberry cream frappe.
Schoonover said Keshae prefers to be outdoors when the weather is warm and she particularly enjoys climbing on the monkey bars at Morton Park. She said Keshae has now advanced to going backwards, skipping bars and hanging upside down on the monkey bars.
"I do like to go to the park, but she can run circles around me," Schoonover said, adding that she makes sure to wear comfortable shoes to keep up with Keshae.
Schoonover said she used to be nervous around young children, but has overcome this nervousness with the help of Keshae. Schoonover said being a Big Brothers Big Sisters volunteer has inspired her to add elementary education to her studies at Eastern, where she is also a public relations major.
Jill Schafer, a match support specialist with Mid-Illinois Big Brothers Big Sisters, said this nonprofit organization has a mission to provide children facing adversity with strong and enduring, professionally supported one-to-one mentoring relationships that change their lives for the better. The main office is located in Charleston and serves children, ages 5-13 years old, primarily in Coles and Effingham counties.
Schafer said Mid-Illinois Big Brothers Big Sisters uses adult volunteers, “Bigs,” ages 18 and up to provide guidance and support to local children, “Littles.” This can be done in a community based setting, like with Schoonover and Keshae, or in a school based setting. Both require a commitment of at least one year.
"Children who have positive role models are more likely to succeed in school and avoid risky behaviors; and it only takes a few hours a month to have a lasting impact on a child in need," Schafer said.
Anyone interested in becoming a mentor can call Mid-Illinois Big Brothers Big Sisters at 217-348-8741. More information about the program can be found at this group's website, www.JoinSomethingBig.org.