RENO, NV - When you first meet 12-year-old Riley Turner, she will tell you that she doesn't like to smile. But as soon as she is around Katie Hippert, you can immediately see Riley light up.
Katie is Riley's 'Big Sister' through the Big Brothers Big Sisters of Northern Nevada program. They've been paired together for 2 years, and if you ask Riley how Katie has influenced her life, she will tell you that she thanks her 'Big Sister' for helping break her shell.
"I really stayed at home a lot," she said. "I was bored all the time. I use to just play a lot of video games."
Riley comes from a large family, and said she never felt like she had anybody in her life until she met Katie. While the first introduction they say, was nerve racking and intimidating, Katie says she has seen a major change in time they have been Big and Little.
"She definitely is a little bit more outgoing now," Katie said. "It's insane how a person can change from 9 years old to 12 years old. She's grown so much and matured so much."
Riley now gets more involved in school. Her grades are starting to go up. Katie even takes Riley out to a special dinner every time there are all A's and B's on her report card. Riley is also getting more involved in after school activities. She just joined the Winter Guard team at Depoli Middle School.
Riley's success story is just one of thousands in our area. In fact, 75% of the kids in the Big Brothers Big Sisters program graduated from high school last year. That's compared to the 56% of similarly disadvantaged kids in Washoe County who don’t have mentors.
But for every success story, there is another child in the area waiting for a friend.
"We have over a hundred kids who are waiting to be matched with a caring adult," Liza Maupin, CEO of Big Brothers Big Sisters of Northern Nevada said. "We just don't have enough volunteers stepping up."
Especially male volunteers. The organization has even started to pair Big Sisters with Little Brothers.
"Women just tend to volunteer more," Maupin said.
Part of your New Year's resolutions may be to get more involved in the community, but becoming a mentor may seem like a daunting task with a significant time commitment. But it only takes an hour a week to make a difference.
"I spend that watching TV sometimes, so why not change your habits of watching TV and use that time to help somebody else," Katie said.
Studies show, kids who have a mentor are 46% less likely to begin using illegal drugs, 27% less likely to begin drinking alcohol, 52% less likely to skip school, and 94% more likely to have confidence in achieving their goals.
If those numbers are not enough to convince you to consider volunteering, take a look at the relationship between Katie and Riley, and you can see that it goes far beyond that of Mentor and Mentee; they are friends.
"It's kind of a breath of fresh air coming from a 40 hour work week and the stresses of adulthood," Katie said.
And Riley takes the name 'Little Sister' very seriously.
"Katie is my family," she said.
To get more information on volunteering, visit www.bbbsnn.org