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Big Brothers Big Sisters of McHenry County looking for big hearts - By JEFF ENGELHARDT - jengelhardt@shawmedia.com

 Sarah Nader- snader@shawmedia.com

Woods has spent just more than three years as Jaden’s big in the Big Brothers Big Sisters of McHenry County program and has taken his little to both new emotional and physical heights. Woods, a licensed pilot, has taken 10-year-old Jaden on flights, trips to Great America and frequent geocaching adventures, among other activities.

The bond the two have developed earned them the title of match of the year in McHenry County and is an example of how age disparity and other differences can fade away in unlikely friendships, Woods said.

“My adult children don’t have children, so it’s kind of like that grandchild,” Woods said of the relationship. “It’s easy to find stuff to do, and we always have a lot of fun.”

Dena Hernandez, director of programs for Big Brothers Big Sisters of McHenry County, said Woods’ and Jaden’s story is not uncommon in the program. The program has about 482 active matches, Woods said, and some have been together for as long as 10 years.

But Hernandez said the organization is working toward 525 matches, and a waiting list of 18 littles – 16 of whom are boys – shows there is a shortage of volunteers.

“We’re primarily short in the McHenry-Johnsburg area,” Hernandez said. “We don’t expect a volunteer to drive more than 15 miles to meet with their little, so it can be difficult.”

Changes to the program in the last few years have helped draw volunteers, Hernandez said, but it also has caused some hesitation.

Three years ago, the organization changed the weekly meeting requirements to a four to six hours a month requirement that could be fulfilled with two visits a month or weekly visits if the volunteer preferred.

While that helped interest more people, last year the minimum commitment increased from one year to 18 months. Hernandez said studies showed that relationships broken off before 12 months actually did more harm to the child, so staff wanted to make sure children had a big for at least a year and a half.

Hernandez, who also volunteers as a big, said the time flies for volunteers.


“Some matches go seven to 10 years with each other and through high school graduation,” Hernandez said. “We can only match a child up to 14 years old but once that match is made it can last a long time.”

Jamie Maravich, who is in her second year as board president for Big Brothers Big Sisters of McHenry County, said volunteering is one of the easiest and most rewarding ways to make a big difference in a child’s life. She said studies have shown children in the program are more likely to do well in school and graduate, gain confidence, avoid drugs and alcohol and break the cycle of abuse that is sometimes present in their family structure.

“It is extremely heartwarming to see the difference [volunteers] make,” Maravich said. “You always hear them say, ‘We don’t even have to try.’ ”

The program covers many costs for volunteers including all the application expenses. The organization also hosts monthly activity days to provide options for the matches and support meetings where bigs can talk about their experiences and provide suggestions for improvements and activities.

For anyone on the fence, Woods said people should seize the opportunity.

“It’s not hard at all to meet with Jaden twice a month for two or three hours,” said Woods, adding he still works long hours and travels constantly. “In the summer I like to go on motorcycle rides on Sunday night, and I’ll just call to see if Jaden is up to anything. It’s that simple.”

For more information on Big Brothers Big Sisters, visit www.bbbsmchenry.org or call 815-385-3855.

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