Big Brothers Big Sisters Grows With Donations From Newtown

The Big Brothers Big Sisters (BBBS) Donation Center at 127 South Main Street opened in March, and donation center attendant Mike Thomas said that he is “real happy” with the response the collection center has generated in Newtown. From a first week count of 27 donors, that number has rapidly grown. In the final week in April, Mr Thomas said, 119 people had stopped by to donate everything from clothing and shoes to children’s bicycles, furniture, games, and more.

“We are seeing a lot of repeat customers, and that’s a good thing,” Mr Thomas said.

Big Brothers Big Sisters is an organization matching children between the ages of 6 and 15 with a volunteer mentor at least 18 years of age or older. The “Bigs” as they are known, are asked to commit to meeting once a week, twice a month, or once a month with their “Littles” for three to five hours at a time, for a year. The one-on-one mentoring program provides at-risk children with positive role models, and is supported by professionals that offer guidance.

“We had been looking at a Newtown location for about two years,” said Ken Kuntz, BBBS of Southwestern Connecticut director of operations. “Our collection trucks to the area had found that this area has always been very generous,” he said. BBBS partners with Savers Thrift Stores to sell the items donated to the centers. With the recent opening of a Savers Thrift Store in Brookfield, the proximity of Newtown made it seem the logical place to open a donation center, he said.

The BBBS Donation Center accepts a wide variety of items, Mr Thomas said. In the initial weeks of opening, donors thought the store was just for clothing donations, and the store received bag upon bag of clothes.

“People were surprised to find that we accept just about any good reusable items,” he said.

The BBBS Donation Center in Newtown accepts clothing; shoes and accessories; media items; CDs; books; housewares; bed and bath items, but no mattresses; small appliances and electronics; toys; games; tools; and curtains. Infant cribs, car seats, and strollers are not accepted. All donations are tax deductible, and a free pickup of items can be arranged by calling 877-399-2570, or by visiting www.bbbsdonate.org.

“We also provide donation bins, and arrange for groups or neighbors to host clothing drives,” Mr Thomas said. Donations bins support children in the area, and pickups are on a weekly basis from the bins. To host a clothing drive or arrange to sponsor a donation bin, call 203-366-3766 or contact Rebecca.Flynn@bbbsswct.org.

Donating to the BBBS Donation Center is an excellent way to reduce the environmental imprint, Mr Kuntz said.

“Our message is recycling and repurposing items that might otherwise go into a landfill,” he said.

Materials are collected from the donation centers by Savers Thrift Stores, which pays for the product, Mr Kuntz said.

“All of the money goes to support the BBBS program,” he said. It costs approximately $1,000 for each Big/Little match, to pay for caseworkers, to do background checks, and for training, Mr Kuntz explained. “A lot of effort goes into making each match,” he said, as an attempt is made to match the interests of Bigs and Littles.

There are currently 475 active matches in Connecticut, with many more children on a waiting list.

Frank Acri of Danbury is one of those successful matches that benefits from funds raised through donations to the BBBS Donation Center. He has been a member of BBBS for seven years, and has mentored two boys, both from Newtown. His current “Little” is 10 years old, and the 61-year-old volunteer said they have grown their relationship in the two years they have been matched.

“This one was very sullen at first, and very quiet,” Mr Acri said. Over time, he has opened up to his mentor about issues on his mind, and “his mood has lightened up, quite a bit,” he said. As his Little feels better, Mr Acri said that he feels better, too.

The two do activities that generally are free or cost very little, he said, which is what BBBS suggests. Volunteers receive no monetary support from the organization. The two have had fun duckpin bowling, visiting zoos, and fishing. The BBBS organization is very supportive, he said, in providing suggestions for activities and offering BBBS-sponsored events, such as holiday parties for Bigs and Littles.

He had some concerns as to how his Little would react following 12/14, but Mr Acri said that other than expressing his dislike for the police presence at his school, his Little seems to be working through it just fine.

“I felt him out a little, after December, but we don’t really talk about it,” he said.

“He seems to enjoy himself, and I get a tremendous amount of satisfaction out of spending time with him,” Mr Acri said. “I like being able to bond with and help a young person. I have definitely seen positive changes in him over these two years,” he added.

He would highly recommend others becoming involved with BBBS. “The commitment is not that big, for what you get back,” Mr Acri said.

The Newtown BBBS Donation Center has been off to a fantastic start, Mr Kuntz said, with “super numbers” for a new facility.

“We’re here to help out a good organization, and to recycle,” Mr Thomas said.

The Newtown BBBS Donation Center is open Monday through Friday, from 8 am to 4:30 pm, and on Saturday from 9 am to 3 pm. For additional information, call 203-989-3078.

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