The Washington Times-Herald
---- — It was a time of reminiscing and reconnecting as members of the Friends for Kids of Daviess County organization, both past and present, gathered for a reunion. Approximately thirty people attended the event, which is the first time such an event has been held according to the organization’s director Laura Sims.
“We have always been about the kids”, said Sims, “but we thought it would be nice to get the Bigs and Littles from the past together for an event. We’re really happy with how it turned out and the testimonies that were shared have given all of our current Bigs the motivation to continue on.”
Kevin Swartzentruber and his wife Amanda have been active as Big Friends in the organization and will be resigning from the board of directors after ten years of service at the end of this year. Mr. Swartzentruber assured those in attendance that “you are making an impact on the futures of these young children. And while it may seem right now that you don’t have a shining success story to share Jesus teaches us in the book of Matthew that “in as much as you have done it unto the least of these, you have done unto me.”
Former Washington mayor Dave Abel served as one of the event’s keynote speakers. Abel elaborated on how he became involved in the organization in the late 1970s when it was still known as Big Brother Big Sister. It remained as Big Brother Big Sister for a few years when the Evansville chapter served notice it no longer had sufficient funds to support the Daviess County branch. It was then renamed as it is currently known. He stayed with the organization until being elected to his first term of Mayor of Washington in the early 1980s.
Abel was 24-years-old at the time of the organization’s inception and was serving as a probation officer while also being involved in the Washington Jaycees. He became aware of the need for a mentoring program such as Big Brother Big Sister through his work as probation officer. Later he and Don Roach were assigned as project chairmen and were able to get a start in what would eventually lead to Friends for Kids as we know it today.
Abel, who joined Margaret Clause as past organization directors in attendance, both agreed that they “were amazed the organization had survived all these years.”
Mr. Abel spoke much about the early history of the organization and said “he feels the organization owes its early success to many different individuals” including the likes of Margaret Scott, a newspaper reporter at the time, who was always most helpful in alerting the public of the organization and its mission.
Ron Tieken was the first volunteer to be matched with a child in the new venture and Julie (Gill) Blubaum was the first female volunteer to be matched. JoAnn Donaldson was the first volunteer caseworker. “All of these, and others too numerous to mention, were instrumental in laying the groundwork to what we have today.”
As evident by the number of attendees who were once in the program as children, the organization does have a lasting impact on both Bigs and Littles. Lois Schnarr, a volunteer for over 20 years, has had four separate matches with young girls and as current director Laura Sims stated “has been an invaluable asset to what we do, and have done, over the years.”
Chris Clark, another adult volunteer, who has been in the organization for many years spoke of how her daughter Chelsea and her volunteered to spend time with three girls at once in the program. “It is a wonderful experience for someone looking for a mother/daughter project to do together. Chelsea and I really enjoyed this. We would go on “pretend” trips to Hawaii with our girls, even going shopping and “pretending” to buy things we would need for the trip.”
Brittney, a former match of Clark, was in attendance with her husband and two children and shared that she “still makes recipes she learned from being at Chris’s house.”
One of the earliest records on file of the board of directors of the new program included the likes of executive director David Abel, president Derrell Fry, vice-president Bonnie Riggins, secretary Vic Hopkins, and treasurer Richard Thomas. Harold Allison served as publicity chairman. Other members included Julie Gill, Nora Newman, Gordon Wade, James Gill, and the Rev. Kenneth Brock.
“Certainly Daviess County owes these individuals a debt of gratitude for stepping out in faith and coming together with the purpose of providing this service to our young people,” said Laura Sims. “We know without a doubt that many a kid has had a day brightener or a life changing experience because of this organization. We challenge everyone that if they have a few hours a week of free time that could be spent with a kid please consider joining Friends for Kids!”