WICHITA FALLS (KFDX/KJTL) — A new Big Brothers Big Sisters of Wichita County program at Sheppard Elementary is helping students rise above challenges, thanks to some awesome adults who spend lunch with them twice a month.
When Sheppard Elementary students walk through the doors of one of the classrooms every other Tuesday, they’re not there to learn math or science.
“I get really excited,” Sheppard Elementary 5th grader Eleanor Williams said.
Instead, students like Eleanor play games and eat pizza with their Big Brothers Big Sisters’ big, someone who works on Sheppard Air Force Base. Eleanor’s big is Erin Helenschmidt.
“She’s kind and funny,” Eleanor said.
“Actually having a 10-year-old myself, it’s nice to actually see other 10-year-olds around her age and actually get to meet some people and she’s really super sweet, Eleanor is great,” Erin said.
Eleanor and Erin are a part of the ‘Lunch Buddies’ program at Sheppard Elementary which is the brainchild of Big Brothers Big Sisters of Wichita County, geared towards 5th and 6th graders.
“The bigger kids it seems like after COVID, some of them were having a little social/emotional troubles, not severe or anything, but just not as happy as they had been before,” Sheppard Elementary Principal Cindy Waddell said.
“It’s a lot different from when I grew up, so trying to be a part and a good influence on kids this age, cause there’s so much crazy stuff out there that we didn’t have to deal with at their age,” Erin said.
On top of coming back from COVID, these students live what can be a particularly challenging lifestyle for some. Bigs like Erin, who also grew up in a military family, totally get it.
“For me, I didn’t have family just like close by growing up cause you do move around and so it’s kinda nice to make connections with people around you, people that can make good influences on you,” Erin said. “Not just kids your own age, it’s nice to kind of maybe have other adults that you can lean on around you.”
“You make new friends everywhere you go, well I do,” Eleanor added.
Waddell said it seems like the mood is lighter when these bigs and littles get together.
“Our kids go through so many transitions in their little lives,” Waddell said. “Some of our kids of course have been in three or four elementary schools even, so when their parents deploy or when they’re moving, sometimes those transitions are just really hard for the whole family so this is a way we can connect with the littles, with the kids and really just kind of be there for them and let them talk about whatever is bothering them.”
Waddell said she has seen the impact with her own eyes.
“I just think about one of the littles, he wasn’t just wasn’t smiling a lot, kind of sad,” Waddell said. “I see him now just beaming on the day that his Big Brother Big Sister is coming in and meeting with him.”
The program is just as rewarding for the big.
“It’s nice to like break up your routine and come sit with somebody else and interact and lose at a couple of games of UNO every now and then,” Erin said.
Bigs and Littles meet every other Tuesday during the students’ lunch hour (11:50 a.m. to 12:50 p.m.) throughout the school year.
For those who work on Sheppard Air Force Base and want to be a big to a student at Sheppard Elementary, contact Big Brothers Big Sisters through its website, or by calling 940-767-2447 and asking about the program.
Parents of Sheppard Elementary students interested should contact the school.