Editor's note: This is the 12th in a series of stories highlighting the 21 agencies to receive United Way's annual campaign funds. The next article will run in Saturday's edition of The Telegram.



Every time Jeff Weeast plays a game of catch with his "little brother," Brayan, or takes him out to eat or to a movie, he knows they're both in the right place.

When Weeast used a home remodeling job in his bathroom as an opportunity to teach the 15-year-old Garden City boy a few handyman skills, and also as a chance to experience the pleasures and rewards of a job well done, he knew he was teaching life lessons that Brayan had never had the opportunity to experience.

Weeast knows the seemingly small, simple things he is doing with Brayan on a weekly basis play a big part in the boy's life.

"I just try to stay in his life and give him a positive influence," said Weeast, one of more than 600 adult volunteers who mentor and spend time with more than 1,200 children being served through Big Brothers Big Sisters of Finney and Kearny Counties.

According to BBBS' mission statement, the agency's goal is "to provide children facing adversity in Finney and Kearny counties with strong and enduring, professionally supported one-to-one relationships that change their lives for the better, forever."

Weeast, a financial adviser for Edward Jones who became a BBBS volunteer about a year ago, was paired with Brayan through the agency's one-to-one match program. And for the past year, the two have been spending time together, getting to know each other and enjoying each other's company through a variety of activities.

For Brayan, who lives with his mother in a single-parent home, the relationship has given him a positive male role model.

For Weeast, the relationship provides him the opportunity to give back to the community and make a difference in a child's life.

"I just think there are a lot of kids who need a role model, and this is my way of giving back," Weeast said.

BBBS gives back to the youth of the community in a variety of ways. In addition to the one-to-one match program for youth ages 5 to 17, volunteers from the agency also spend time mentoring and tutoring their "little" brothers and sisters in the school setting through the agency's school-based mentoring program. In 2004, the agency started a summer playground program at East Garden Village. And in 2009, after USD 457 had to cut its summer school program due to budget constraints, BBBS added a summer mentoring program that focuses on helping students retain and improve their math and reading skills during the summer break.

Tammy Davis, executive director of BBBS, said the agency is simply a prevention program that targets at-risk youth.

But, Davis said, the program isn't forced upon those it targets.

"That's one of our rules in the program," she said, "you have to want to be in it to be in it."

The numbers would indicate there are plenty of youth who want to be involved. This past year, the agency has served 1,231 youth through its various programs in Finney and Kearny counties, with 150 currently on the agency's waiting list.

As the agency's programs grow, the recruiting and screening process for volunteers has become a more daunting task. In addition, the agency's two case managers also are pressed to screen the children in the program to best match them with volunteers, as well as track each child's progress to make sure their needs are being met.

That's where the United Way of Finney County comes into the picture. BBBS received $30,000 from the United Way in 2011 and has requested $35,000 for 2012. The money is used by the agency's case managers to recruit and screen adult volunteers, screen the children in the program and monitor their progress.

Weeast, who also is a member of the United Way board of directors, understands the importance of the partnership between the two agencies.

"Big Brothers Big Sisters, it's been one of my biggest projects," Weeast said, referring to his role in determining how to distribute United Way funds. "I would like to give twice the money to (Big Brothers Big Sisters), but you only have so much money to spread around."

Davis is a firm believer that money given to BBBS is money well spent.

"For the long-term, investment in Big Brothers Big Sisters programs help keep kids out of trouble, and in school and off drugs, so they are successful in the community," Davis said. "So they are tax-makers, not tax-takers."

One telling statistic from 2010 that supports Davis' statement showed that out of 97 youth who were referred to BBBS as siblings of juvenile offenders in the 25th Judicial District, only one failed to avoid delinquency after becoming part of the BBBS program.

Weeast sees evidence of the program's effectiveness in Brayan, who the adult mentor says has made great strides with his school work over the past year.

"It just feels like he's in a better place now than he was a year ago," Weeast said.

The United Way is in the midst of its 2012 fundraising campaign. The agency has a goal of raising $550,000 to be distributed to its 21 member agencies.

Other agencies that will receive funds include: Finney County RSVP; Kansas Children's Service League; Santa Fe Trail Council Boy Scouts; Smart Start; Playground Program; Family Crisis Services; The Salvation Army; Catholic Social Service; Meals on Wheels; Habitat for Humanity; Garden City Family YMCA; Garden City Chapter of the Red Cross; Miles of Smiles; Russell Child Development Center; Southeast Asian Mutual Assistance Association; United Methodist Mexican-American Ministries; United Cerebral Palsy of Kansas; Spirit of the Plains, CASA; Community Day Care; and Girl Scouts of Kansas Heartland.

Big Brothers Big Sisters

Director: Tammy Davis

Address: 201 1/2 N. Main St.

Phone: 275-2424