Big Brothers Big Sisters dances into new territory

By Ryn Gargulinski: QCS

Tucumcari resident Donna Garcia, who started ballet at age 4 but stopped dancing after many years because of a back injury, will soon be dancing again to a brand new tune — Big Brothers Big Sisters.

Garcia said she leapt at the student internship with the organization for several reasons. For one, she said her social work major at Highlands University requires time spent with children. For another, she said she has worked with kids in the past and finds it fun. For a third, Big Brothers Big Sisters of Las Vegas, Inc., has recently expanded to include Quay County.

With an enlarged territory to also encompass Colfax, De Baca, Harding, Mora, Union, San Miguel and Guadalupe counties, the new name is soon to be Big Brothers Big Sisters of Northeastern New Mexico, Inc., according to Chief Executive Officer Martha Cole.

The name change will be official as soon as all the approval and paperwork goes through, said Cole, but the expanded coverage has already begun.

Specifically in Quay County, Big Brothers Big Sisters has converged at First Christian Church for the Thank God It’s Friday program for kids whose new four-day school week leaves them with Fridays open.

“We teach the older children how to mentor the younger children by playing games,” Cole said, adding volunteers are sent out well prepared, not to mention eager. “We actually pair them off and say you’re going to help your little brother do this, or your little sister do that.

“The (kids’) grades go up, unwanted behaviors go down. The younger ones are proud to have them as big brothers and big sisters. The older ones are proud to take care of the younger ones.”

Other Quay County initiatives include an educational fitness grant that Cole said will be used for a dance program with Garcia. Cole said Garcia fits in wonderfully with her background and her connections — not to mention her penchant for helping others.

“It’s really fun,” said Garcia of assisting kids. “I enjoy myself. I like to spend time with children and help them achieve their goals.”

In addition to the work in Quay, Cole said they are reaching out into schools in Raton and surrounding areas with an Internet network where kids who need help are listed.

“Counselors see a kid in trouble, see a kid that needs help and tries to help them find a mentor,” Cole said.

She said they are also branching out to different counties by working with schools in De Baca, having discussions with community leaders in Santa Rosa and partnering with SOY, the Service Organization for Youth.

Since her May 1 appointment as CEO of the area chapter, Cole has set her sights on obtaining more funds. A recent photo shoot included Gov. Bill Richardson with notable New Mexico residents to create a calendar to sell to raise funds for the organization. Cole said she also applied for two grants — one that includes a dance program to be heavily assisted by Garcia — and is looking for more.

“Over time, I envision within five years we’ll be in all eight counties and each county will be independent and able to function alone,” Cole said, adding advisory boards will still voice their concerns and receive guidance from the parent organization, which just celebrated 100 years.

“This is a wonderful program,” Garcia said. “I hope Tucumcari will jump on the opportunity.”

How to volunteer:
Pick up an application at First Christian Church, 1701 S. First St.
Call the church at 461-2723
Call Big Brothers Big Sisters at 425-9528