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Big Brothers' help children

By Staff
NOT TOO OLD – Darren Johnson, left, and his "Big Brother," James Harrison, engage in a playful game of one-on-one Thursday on the basketball court at Boys and Girls Club of Lauderdale County. Photo by Steve Gillespie/The Meridian Star
By Steve Gillespie / staff writer
Aug. 30, 2002
Darren Johnson's real big brother is in the military and stationed in Virginia, but in his absence a surrogate has stepped in to fill his shoes.
James Harrison, campaign-communications director for United Way of East Mississippi, visits Darren weekly at the Boys and Girls Club of Lauderdale County.
James and Darren participate in "UP 2 US," the Big Brothers-Big Sisters program at the Boys and Girls Club part of a statewide effort to increase the number of Big Brothers-Big Sisters programs.
Darren, 12, is a seventh-grader at Carver Middle School. He likes to play basketball, watch TV and eat seafood, pizza and macaroni and cheese. And he talks to James after school each Wednesday.
James spends at least an hour a week with Darren at the club, but hopes he can spend more time with him later in the year and go on field trips with him that the club will organize.
Program grows
Big Brothers-Big Sisters of Mississippi is trying to grow statewide. And state Attorney General Mike Moore is helping; he visited Meridian this spring to encourage more mentorship.
Meridian has had a school-based mentoring program organized by Big Brothers-Big Sisters for two years, but additional community-based programs were set up during the summer.
Those programs include "UP 2 US," at the Boys and Girls Club; "Big Hope," at Hope Village for Children; and "Bigs In Blue," in which law officers and firefighters serve as mentors.
Moore hopes to double the number of Big Brothers-Big Sisters mentors in the state to 3,000. Becky Hudgens, director of programs for Big Brothers-Big Sisters of Mississippi, said that already is happening.
She predicted Meridian will reach its goal of at least 300 matches by the end of the year.
Terrence Roberts, manager of the local Big Brothers-Big Sisters program, said Meridian is poised to be the largest site in the state by the end of the year, but more mentors are needed.
People volunteer
Roberts said the "Big Hope" program has 14 matches now. He said 10 volunteers are waiting to be matched with children at Hope Village, a home for abused and neglected children.
The summer program of "UP 2 US" at the Boys and Girls Club ended with 15 matches. Now that the new school year has started, 50 more children at the club are looking for Big Brothers and Big Sisters.
Roberts said Meridian public schools have 106 matches. And, he said, high school students are being recruited as Big Brothers or Big Sisters at Clarkdale and Southeast attendance centers.
Roberts also said he expects to have a total of 25 volunteers in the "Bigs In Blue" program from the Lauderdale County Sheriff's Department and the Meridian Police Department by the end of the year.
Darren said he looks forward to James' visits and he hopes one day his little sister will be able to look forward to a visit from a Big Sister.
Sometimes, Darren just likes James to be there, to watch him play basketball for an hour on those Wednesdays he doesn't have anything to say.
Asked if James ever plays basketball with him, Darren said, "No. I believe he's too old for it."
After hearing that, James, 43, brought his tennis shoes with him to the club on Thursday for a game of one-on-one after making Darren promise to take it easy on him.
Interested in becoming a mentor in the Big Brothers-Big Sisters program? Plan to attend an orientation, noon-12:45 p.m. Sept. 10, at the Boys and Girls Club of Lauderdale County, 1717 45th Ave. Don't forget to bring a brown-bag lunch.For more information call Terrence Roberts, program manager, at 484-3619.