BY LURAH LOWERY | BRISTOL HERALD COURIER |
Editor’s note: This is the sixth story in a series about the United Way of Bristol, the agencies it funds and the people who are helped. The organization is in the midst of its annual fundraising campaign. For more information, go to www.unitedwaybristol.org or call 423-968-4912.
BRISTOL, Tenn. — A sudden death led to a local woman’s lifelong friendship that helped fill a void in her life.
Julie Newman’s father passed away from cancer when she was 5 and her brother was 7. Although they had a terrific mother, Newman said, she decided her children needed another person to talk to who would be there for them and relate to them, which is exactly what was provided by Big Brothers Big Sisters in Williamsburg, Virginia.
“Usually it’s for children who come from unstable homes or who have a single family home that doesn’t have a strong role model and one of the reasons I’m happy to share my story is to say, ‘You never know who Big Brothers Big Sisters is going to help,’” said Newman, who is a news anchor at News 5 WCYB. “It’s not always necessarily the faces you think it is. We were a strong family and we were just hit by a tragic loss.”
She had more than one big sister, but the one that really stuck, Amie Hellauer, was matched with her when she was in middle school. She and Newman were part of each other’s lives from then on, including their weddings and Newman’s high school graduation.
“What Big Brothers Big Sisters was for me was someone that I could relate to,” Newman said. “It was someone that could give me advice and guidance and help me through a tough time. … My mother wanted to find someone that was just for me, my special friend that I could talk to and share my feelings with and someone that wasn’t necessarily already in our family.”
Memories with her big sister that Newman fondly recalls are when they made macaroni and cheese for dinner and went roller skating, but it was more about her friend being there for her than the activity. She remembers thinking at Hellauer’s wedding that she admired her and wanted to find a great husband and a life like hers.
“I think it’s the parents who have to realize there’s a need for their child because a child doesn’t know enough about their own situation to say, ‘Hey, I need somebody.’ … You don’t have to spend a ton of money doing it,” Newman said. “I think sometimes volunteers don’t come forward because you think it’s a huge time commitment and you think it’s a huge expense, but it’s whatever you put into it.”
Big Brothers Big Sisters of East Tennessee is an agency of United Way of Bristol and is partially supported financially by campaign funds raised by the organization. This year’s campaign is underway with the goal of $1.425 million. As of last week, $1 million had been raised.
“I think it’s so important for our community to support United Way because United Way supports so many people who live here and so many agencies,” Newman said. “You never know whose life United Way has touched. In a room full of 100 strangers, you can look around and you don’t necessarily know the face of need. If we all do our part and if we all pitch in, we can make a difference.”
Any child between the ages of 6 and 15 is welcome to be a part of Big Brothers Big Sisters. If a child is matched with a current big brother or big sister when they turn 16, they will be supported until they turn 18. Applications for participation can be received from parents, legal guardians and others. Referrals can be received from facilities like Frontier Health, case management services, schools and others.
The agency has two programs: site-based and community-based, said Katie Carrico, regional director of Big Brothers Big Sisters of East Tennessee. Site-based is when the children and their mentors spend time together at schools or an after-school facility. Community-based is when the mentor picks the child up and spends time out in the community like going to a movie, baking, or hiking.
Big Brothers Big Sisters of East Tennessee serves Carter, Hawkins, Sullivan and Washington counties in Tennessee and Washington County, Virginia.
Money from United Way and fundraiser monies support the agency so families are not charged for their participation.
“What we hope to do is to provide youth with a caring adult mentor,” Carrico said. “The whole idea is that these mentors will provide these kids with a different perspective on life, allow them to think beyond their current condition and to build their aspirations in hopes of improving their lives.”
Teaching the importance of giving back to the community, Newman said, is the responsibility of parents — a lesson that she learned early in life. She said her mother has always been an avid volunteer and she remembers going with her to deliver meals to people through Meals on Wheels — a program with which Newman still volunteers.
“It was really interesting for me to see that people lived differently than I did,” she said. “It was really eye opening to see people who weren’t mobile. … It showed me at a very young age how important it is to reach out to others.”
Newman’s family also helped children by becoming a volunteer emergency family that provides a temporary home for children involved in an emergency situation.
“We always had someone in our home that we were helping to care for, whether it was a baby or a toddler or a teenager,” she said. “… It’s a big world out there and it’s full of all kinds of people and we all have to do our part to make it better.”
She has begun teaching her children, who are 7 and 9, the importance of volunteering and giving back. The children also do community service projects through their school. The family also collects money for the poor during Lent.
Through the Big Brothers Big Sisters program, Newman said she learned to grow up.
“You just see someone doing everyday things and making good choices,” she said. “It was the advice she gave me, the way she talked to me, just the example that she set. She was kind and intelligent and warm and all of the things that I needed to see growing up — the way you should treat a person. I knew she was the kind of person I wanted to be when I grew up, but my mom was the same way. If I turned out to be half the person my mom was I knew I was going to be fine.
“I really feel like it takes a village to raise a child and a big brother or a big sister is an important part of that village. There is help out there. You just have to reach out for it.”