Befriending a child as a big brother or big sister should be easy for adult volunteers, the new leader of the Douglas County chapter of Big Brothers-Big Sisters of America.
"We tell volunteers that if you've been a friend to anybody in your entire life, you have what it takes to be a big brother or big sister, because the basis of the program is a one-to-one friendship between an adult and a child," said Tim McHenry, newly named executive director of the local BBBSA.
As McHenry, 31, puts the finishing touches on some administrative details, he has begun looking for adult volunteers 18 and older to match with children ages 5 to 17 in need of a big brother or sister. His goal, beginning Nov. 1, is to make four matches a month between adults and children.
VOLUNTEERS will be asked to make a one-year commitment to spend four hours a week with a child. The volunteers also will be subject to an extensive background check and interview process to ensure a proper match with a child.
McHenry stressed it was important to meet the expectations of both the child and volunteer so a long-term, stable relationship could develop.
"The kids that we've worked with have been disappointed before," he said. "They've been hurt in adult relationships, and it certainly doesn't behoove us to reinforce that. We're trying to show kids that it's OK to trust, it's OK to care about people."
While finding enough qualified adult volunteers presents a challenge, there's an ample supply of children, he said. Most of the children expected to participate in the program will come from the approximately 2,000 single-parent homes in the county. McHenry said he would work with school officials to target children for the program.
"It's been my experience with Big Brothers-Big Sisters that you don't have too much trouble finding kids they tend to find you," he said.
WHEN IT COMES to the Big Brother-Big Sister program, McHenry practices what he preaches. The Topeka native helped start the BBBSA program in Manhattan while a student at Kansas State University, where he earned a bachelor's degree in family and child development in 1982.
McHenry moved to Prescott, Ariz., in 1985 as a BBBSA program director, supervising 100 matches in a city of 30,000 people. He and his wife moved to Topeka last year, where he worked as a juvenile intake coordinator for the Kansas Children's Service League.
And in each city, McHenry has himself been a big brother. He said he still keeps track of his first little brother, a Manhattan youth who now is a 20-year-old trade school student in Wichita.
McHenry and his wife, Yvonne, presently work with an 8-year-old boy in Topeka.
Mark Matese, president of the local BBBSA board of directors, said the county found a good match in McHenry.
"WE WERE really impressed with Tim's lifelong dedication to the process. He articulated it and did it," Matese said.
Matese has set a goal to raise $80,000 by next spring and hopes to get United Way funding in 1992. Some of those funds have been raised through a $20,000 donation by Hallmark, a $12,500 donation by Kansas University basketball coach Roy Williams from his winnings in the Crosby Pro-Am golf tournament, a pizza sale and the sale of Arby's coupon books.
The program's benefit, McHenry said, is to help children become trusting, productive people.
"I really believe this is one of the most preventative, proactive programs anywhere," he said. "If the volunteers do their job . . . these kids stay out of trouble and they become responsible members of our community."
People interested in the BBBSA program can call 843-7359 or visit the office at 708 W. Ninth.