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As a funded component of United Way’s Education initiative, Big Brothers Big Sisters of Juniata Valley (BBBS) is an organization that matches up nearly a hundred local kids with trained mentors in the Mifflin-Juniata region. Students can be referred to this program for a myriad of reasons. For a nine-year-old girl named Alana Hockenberry, BBBS became a way to overcome the obstacles of being overly emotional and suffering from phantom pain.   

Alana’s “Big Sister” is Cheryl Swineford, a volunteer who has worked with BBBS for four years now. Since being paired with Alana, Cheryl has seen her “Little” make huge improvements, saying that “she’s becoming more outgoing and confident. At first she was very quiet, but she has become much more open with me.”   

Alana and Cheryl spend their time doing lots of fun activities, including eating out at restaurants, baking together, making crafts, watching movies, and going on trips. According to Alana, some of her favorite trips with Cheryl have been visiting Hersheypark and going on a train ride. They see each other at least once a week, and although BBBS only asks their mentors for one hour of volunteer time per week, Cheryl typically spends anywhere from three to five hours with Alana each time that they meet.   

“I seriously look forward to our time together,” said Cheryl, who first began volunteering because all of her own children are now grown up and out of the house. “My relationship with Alana is forever, and she’ll always be a part of my life.”   

The mentorship opportunities with this program are flexible, allowing volunteers to work around personal schedules. With the influence of vetted volunteers and layered case management, children flourish under the type of relationship that is unique to BBBS. Statistics show that the effects are tangible; the “Littles” improve in a variety of areas. They get along better with peers and family, do better in school, and avoid at-risk behaviors such as drugs, alcohol, and tobacco use.   

According to Alana’s mother, Christina Hummel, the influence of BBBS has made a vast difference in her child’s life.  Since being matched with Cheryl, Alana has made so much improvement that she no longer needs to see her counselor. “Cheryl has been a huge blessing,” says Hummel, “we’re so glad she’s in our lives.”   

To further support Big Brothers Big Sisters and other likeminded nonprofits, donations to this year’s campaign can be made to the United Way of Mifflin-Juniata, 13 East Third Street, Lewistown, PA, 17044. Phone: (717) 248-9636, or visit us online at www.mjunitedway.org. If you are interested in becoming a mentor, please call Big Brothers Big Sisters of Juniata Valley at (717) 248-4034.

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