Windham County program goes statewide

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BRATTLEBORO — After more than four decades affiliated with Youth Services, the mentoring program Big Brothers Big Sisters of Windham County will expand statewide with an official launch on July 1. The new entity will be named Big Brothers Big Sisters of Vermont, and Kimberley Diemond, currently director of mentoring at Youth Services, will be its executive director.

The time is right for this expansion, said Diemond, who joined Youth Services

three years ago.

"Community of Friends, a mentoring program affiliated with the Howard Center in Chittenden County, is being discontinued," she said. "We have a funder-in-common, Mobius, which reached out to us and asked us if we would be interested in taking up those matches. The process of looking into the possibilities of expanding has taken almost a year. We'll have a satellite office in Burlington, but our headquarters will remain in Brattleboro."

BBBS of Windham County, a national affiliate of BBBS of America, has been with Youth Services since 1975 as a sponsored agency.

"We have our own mission and our own vision," Diemond said, "but Youth Services has provided fiscal sponsorship and administrative support. However, for us to become a statewide organization, BBBS of America required us to become a stand-alone non-profit agency."

Diemond's primary responsibilities will be overseeing the coordination of matches and running a quality program, following BBBS of America guidelines.

"We have a great jumping off point with Community of Friends," she said, "because they already have a strong program running. Therefore, it will be an easier transition. We'll be able to serve more kids as a statewide agency. It will also increase our resource base, both financial and volunteers. All our Bigs are volunteers."

Mentoring is defined in a Youth Services press release as "pairing a caring adult volunteer with a young person for a mutually rewarding friendship. It is an effective method of addressing all sorts of youth-related issues, from combating drug and alcohol use, and violence, to getting along better with their families and peers."

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Diemond added to that, saying "Mentoring means you present your best self to another human being and guide that younger person through very important years of growth. You build an informal relationship supported by our staff."

This relationship, she added, gives young people experiences they might not otherwise have, offering them a broader perspective on what's out there in the world.

"You help the young person find out who they are and what place they will hold in their family, community, and society," Diemond said. "You can have a strong influence in a positive way."

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Russell Bradbury-Carlin, executive director of Youth Services, said Mobius reached out to BBBS of Windham County because it's the largest, strongest mentoring program in the state, and that Diemond is the perfect choice to lead the new statewide program.

"Kim's a great leader," he said. "She's very smart, very resourceful, as well as driven and passionate. She knows how to run BBBS across the board: she knows both families and data systems, and brings a wide variety of skills."

Diemond worked for seven years as a paralegal in Keene, New Hampshire, and for six years before that with the Keene Housing Authority. In 2010 she established a non-profit, which she built from the ground up.

"I learned how to develop an organization, how to market, how to fundraise, how to network," she said. "I learned how to look at the organization, see how we can grow, and develop a plan for next steps."

Gina Graciano, who joined BBBS of Windham County two-and-a-half years ago as program coordinator, will also take up statewide responsibilities. Her title will change to program manager for BBBSVT. She will oversee both the program coordinator in the Burlington office and the programming staff in the Brattleboro office, communicating electronically as much as she can and traveling north when necessary.

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"My experience is in public and private education," she said, "from kindergarten to post-graduate students. I've witnessed and experienced the power of a one-on-one relationship between a student and a mentor. You don't always know the reach of that understanding. Sometimes it takes just one adult to change a young person's life. I worked at a boarding school for six years as a house parent and developed a really good relationship with one of the students. We kept in touch, and she invited me to her graduation. She told me, 'You're my go-to person.'

"The great thing about BBBS is that it's all voluntary," Graciano continued. "The parents are inviting someone into their family because they see that this could be a positive development for their child. Every match grows at its own pace. I check in monthly with the volunteer, the parent, and/or the child."

BBBS holds monthly events for the Bigs and Littles matches.

"We marched in the Strolling of the Heifers parade," Graciano said. "We held a waterskiing event in Hinsdale (N.H.). We've done cooking at the Brattleboro Co-op. We get a free day of skiing at Mount Snow. We have great community support. The schools have been a phenomenal resource and have welcomed us with open arms. And we have a pulse on kids over the summer."

In Windham County right now, BBBS has 70 community and school-based matches. With the statewide structure, the organization anticipates serving more than triple that number.

"It all depends on the money and the number of volunteers," Diemond said. "While we have a strong and dedicated staff, we always have more kids on the waiting list than we have Bigs to match them with. If people prefer other kinds of volunteer opportunities, they can volunteer for local advisory councils or for openings on the statewide board. There will be fundraisers in different locations. We need continued community support to sustain the program."

For more information about BBBS of Vermont, visit the website at info@bbbsvt.org or call 802-257-0361 or write to Big Brothers Big Sisters of Vermont, P O Box 1729, Brattleboro, VT 05302

Nancy A. Olson, a frequent contributor to the Reformer, can be reached at olsonnan47@gmail.com.


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