Even before the Washington Metropolitan Area Big Sisters officially opened their new Northern Virginia office in Alexandria last week, the staff was matching girls in need of a friend with volunteer older "sisters."
The 50 cases already assigned and the referrals from social agencies in Fairfax County, Arlington and Alexandria are indications of the need for the Northern Virginia program, Big Sisters executive director Sharon Metcalf said at an open house last week.
Slides of big sister-little sister picnic, camp-outs and parties of last summer and fall, and films were shown to visitors in the office at St. Andrews United Methodist Church, 845 N. Howard St. Brochures and membership applications were handed out between the punch and cake.
According to Metcalf, they may include runaways, ungovernables, or girls with academic or truancy problems. All lack personal attention.
"We don't have Shirley Temples in this program," Medcalf explained. "They are often pre-delinquent and many have serious problems."
Little sisters are referred to the program by parents, guardians, schools, churches and social welfare agencies.Sometimes girls themselves seek help. The girls are interviewed in their homes by caseworkers and if parents or guardians agree, they may be accepted in the program.
According to Big Sisters, the result of a successful match with an older "sister" is a gain in self esteem. The younger girls often do better in school, set higher goals for themselves, assume greater responsibility and often avoid delinquency, Metcalf reports.
Big sisters must be over 18, and are usually professional women between 20 and 35 years old. They first attend one of the Big Sister orientation meetings, held the second Saturday of every month.
After orientation, a potential big sister is interviewed on her interests and strengths by a caneworker. If accepted, she must attend two training sessions, where role playing and problem solving are included.
She is then matched with a little sister. Each has a final veto on the match. A "contract" between the big and little sisters in signed indicating that they will meet at least twice a month for a year.
Big sisters are asked not to spend much money on their little sisters and to give instead time and energy. A calendar of free community activities is distributed to big sisters each month.
They are encouraged to do things together such as biking, roller skating, playing cards, cooking a meal or just spending an afternoon in the big sister's home.
Qccording to Fran Hicks, a Fairfax County caseworker for Big Sisters, adult volunteers occasionally don't qualify because they are so wrapped up in their own problems that they will not be any help to a little sister. More often, according to Metcalf, a big sister cannot be matched right away because the little need someone who is streetwise or is a member of a minority.
The metropolitan organization schedules group discussions for big sisters, such as a session recently on teenage sexuality, seminars for both big and little sisters to attend together on topics such as assertiveness. They also plan social events and fund raisers.
Caseworkers are also available for individual counseling.They keep in contact with each match monthly and report to the referring agency several times a year.
Although Big Sisters has been in operation in the metropolitan area since 1958, and 1975 it was run and staffed with mixed success by volunteers Metcalf, then president of the board of directors, succeeded in getting several corporate grants, United Way funds, and other funding for a paid staff. Caseworkers are also funded through CETA (Continuing Education Training Act).This year, (FY 1978) funding totals $200,000. The president of the 25 member board of directors of the WMA Big Sisters is Kathie Libby.
Besides Hicks, caseworkers in the Northern Virginia office are Joni Samles, Janice Robert, and Melinda Brecher. Evelyn Moore and Sharon Scott are community relations and personel and the office manager in Roma Queen.
The office is open five days a week from 9:30 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. The telephone number of the new office is 751-4100 and the central D.C. office is 232-5600.
In addition tok Northern Virginial there are 90 big sister-little sister matches in the District ofColumbia and 55 in Prince George's County.