PUBLISHED: 5:25 PM on Wednesday, September 3, 2008
Adults can learn a lot from a 'Little'
Big Brothers Big Sisters program looking for more adults, youths
Feeling a little unhip and out of touch with pop culture? Are your video game skills limited to pong? Do you think Hogwarts is a porcine skin blemish?

Not to worry: little brothers and little sisters are here to help.

Most adults see the Big Brothers Big Sisters program as beneficial to just the children involved. Bob Coghill, director of recruitment of Big Brothers Big Sisters of Juneau, knows firsthand how much an adult can learn from children.

Karen Wright photo
  Bigs and Littles from Juneau enjoy a whale watching tour during a June event.
Coghill, 56, has worked with youths his entire career. It was because of his interaction with kids that he was first introduced to the Harry Potter series and developed an affinity for hip-hop music.

"I was on the school board in Fairbanks talking to a fifth grade class when I realized I was illiterate because I hadn't read Harry Potter," he said. "There's a lot you can learn from kids. They keep you alive and young."

Liz Kiehne-Perry, development director for Big Brothers Big Sisters of Juneau, said he relationship between "Bigs" and their "Littles" is mutually beneficial.

"Universally, (adults) say they get more out of the program," Kiehne-Perry said. "They can be a kid again and they enjoy watching their 'little' grow up."

Making the match

Hundreds of Littles (ages 6-17) in Southeast Alaska's Big Brothers Big Sisters program are waiting for a Big. Some children wait months, or even a year, before being matched with an adult.

But matching problems extend beyond not having enough adults. In some cases, Bigs are waiting for more children to join the program so they can be matched.

One of the problems often encountered, said Coghill, are stigmas attached to the children and the program. Some adults might assume all the children in the program come from a broken household or have behavioral issues. For the same reason some parents keep their children out of the program.

"That is a very common misconception," Coghill said. "What kid doesn't need an extra adult in their lives?"

Coghill said the program does have some at-risk children who require a special Big who knows how to work with children who have behavioral issues. The Big Brothers Big Sisters screening program is designed to match Bigs based on their experience working with children.

Parental concerns range from fears a Big might supplant the parent to worries of having the child spending time with an unfamiliar adult, Kiehne-Perry said, adding that child safety is always the program's first priority.

For these reasons, Big Brothers Big Sisters has a lengthy screening process involving background checks and interviews, and protocols put in place outlining proper interaction.

Picking the program

Big Brothers Big Sisters turned 100 recently and has prospered in Alaska for 27 years. The number of youths served has increased from 96 in 2000 to nearly 700 in 2007.

Big Brothers Big Sisters has several programs available based on the amount of free time Bigs have to spend with their Little. The program has offices scattered throughout Southeast Alaska in Sitka, Ketchikan, Hoonah, Haines, Skagway, Yakutat and Juneau. The program's expectation is that Bigs and Littles be matched for at least one year.

In the Community Program, Bigs and Littles meet two to four times per month for a few hours per meeting. Events range from dinner and watching movies, to hiking and fishing.

Kiehne-Perry said Littles often take to the hobbies their Big enjoys, and vice-versa.

Another option is the School Program, where Bigs and Littles meet for an hour each week at the Littles elementary of middle school. Contact is limited during the summer when school is out.

To learn more about the Big Brothers Big Sisters program in your community and how to get involved visit