A program created to help military children find mentors is growing in Central Texas, but is still in need of volunteers.

Big Brothers Big Sisters of Central Texas began its military mentoring program earlier this year. The program is aimed specifically at military children, ages 9 to 16, and seeks to pair them with an adult mentor for about a year.

Abha Cole, the program’s manager, said the program serves children with an active-duty military parent, especially who are deployed or within six months of deploying, and surviving children of fallen personnel.

“Military children are in a situation where they sometimes have to deal with some very tough circumstances,” said Cole. “This allows them to have a friend they can talk to and that is a positive influence in their life.”

So far, the organization has paired about 35 military children with mentors through the program, and hopes to break 100 in the near future, said Cole.

“There are many more children here in Central Texas that need a mentor,” said Cole. “We hope to see more volunteers who want to help serve their community.”

Adult mentors must be 18 or older, and can be service members or nonservice members in the military community. The commitment to the mentorship program lasts for one year, so anyone on active duty who volunteers cannot be deploying within the next 12 months.

“The goal is that we try to match up the kids with a Big Brother or Big Sister that we think they will connect with,” said Cole.

The mentors go through an application process that includes a written application, interviews and a background check. Once approved and matched with a “little,” the mentors meet with the children three to four times a month. The meetings usually include trips and other fun activities, Cole said.

“It was a really great experience,” said Wyatt Stimeste, who volunteered as a Big Brother while serving at Fort Hood last year. “It was rewarding for both of us, and we had a lot of fun.”

Stimeste said he thought having mentors from the military community would help military children feel more comfortable with their Big Brothers and Big Sisters.

“I think it helps a lot,” he said. “You know what life (in the military) is like, and they see that you understand where they are coming from.”

In addition to seeking more volunteers, Cole said the program is always looking for families interested in participating in the program, which is free.

Like the mentors, families must apply and meet with the program’s staff.

Big Brothers Big Sisters provided 90,000 hours of mentoring to 1,500 children in Central Texas last year, as well as $45,000 in scholarship funds.

For more information on the Big Brothers Big Sisters of Central Texas’s Military Mentor program, call (512) 442-4646 or go to www.bigmentoring.org.

Contact Chris McGuinness at chrism@kdhnews.com or (254) 501-7568. Follow him on Twitter at ChrismKDH.

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