Southern Door BBBS program is a model for the state

Posted at 10:43 PM, Jun 22, 2016
and last updated 2016-06-22 23:43:38-04
The Big Brothers Big Sisters of Northeastern Wisconsin site-based mentoring program at Southern Door School isn't just a leader in Door County, it's considered a model for the state.
High school senior Nicole Zawilinski joined the program when it started four years ago. She was matched with Izzy.
"We had a rough start. She didn't really open up to me at first, didn't want to listen to me," explains Nicole. "She was a handful. She had a hard time focusing in school which is why she joined the program." 
Nicole is part of the first group of students who was there when the program launched.
The "Bigs" volunteer to spend one hour a week with their "Littles."
"The younger kids who are struggling need help sometimes whether it's with schoolwork or just somebody to talk to about family problems," says senior Tyler Malcore.
The matches also do fun activities whether it's enjoying time on the playground or having a pizza party.
Superintendent Patti Vickman says, "We are definitely seeing the results in kids' attitude towards school, their homework completion and their civic engagement, and that's with the littles as well as with our bigs."
Vickman was instrumental in bringing the program to Southern Door and helping it grow to become one of the best branches in Wisconsin with over 50 matches today.
Kristen Mihaljevic with Big Brothers Big Sisters says the program's success is due to two factors; incredible community support and logistics.
She says, "I think it's unique because you've got K through 12 all under one roof, so it makes it really easy for those upper classmen to meet with those elementary school students. They don't have to go outside. There's no worries about leaving the school." 
It's also the feeling the volunteers get that fuels more high school students to sign up to help mold a young mind.
"It's really taught me how rewarding volunteering can be and how one hour a week, that's enough to make a difference in a child's life," says senior Sam Renard.
Four years after Nicole and Izzy's rocky start, they now have an unbreakable bond.
"She calls me her sister now every time she sees me," explains Nicole.
Izzy adds, "She's nice and awesome," when describing Nicole.
It's apparent, the positive impact of their relationship will last long after they leave Southern Door School.
Program leaders say many times, those who were mentored as littles end up volunteering to become bigs when they get older, so they can pay it forward.