Big Brothers Big Sisters of Elkhart County starts mentoring program in Elkhart, Goshen elementary schools

Pinewood, West Goshen sites for new school-based program

Two new school-based programs are expanding the mentoring efforts for Big Brothers Big Sisters of Elkhart County.

The agency that has worked to pair adult mentors with young people since 1972 has started school-based programs at Pinewood Elementary School in Elkhart Community Schools and West Goshen Elementary in Goshen Community Schools.

“Sometimes the best place to help a child realize his or her potential is at school,” said Brianne Feeks, program director for Big Brothers Big Sisters of Elkhart County. “There is a need in our community for more kids to have the support of a mentor and the schools provide a perfect avenue and partnership.”

Ten young people at each school have been identified as ready for mentors. Volunteers are being recruited to meet with them once a week, 30 to 45 minutes at a time, for the school year. “Having their Big visit them at school can increase attendance, self-confidence and help the child see school more positively,” Feeks said. Academic performance also improves.

The agency has 84 pairs of adults with young people. In some instances, a family or couple will share mentoring of a child. In others, an individual volunteers to be a mentor for a young person. All Big Brothers Big Sisters in Elkhart County are interviewed, and undergo background and reference checks before being paired with a young person.

The mission of Big Brothers Big Sisters of Elkhart County is to provide children facing adversity with strong and enduring, professionally supported one-to-one mentoring relationships that change their lives for the better, forever.

The school-based program offers a safe place for Bigs and Littles to eat together, read a book, play a game or just talk. Activities are provided to help the pairs.

“Mentoring is a mission that is near and dear to my heart. We have to find ways to support our youth and their families,” said Menessah Nelson, the new executive director for Big Brothers Big Sisters of Elkhart County. Nelson, who is a licensed art therapist, was hired to replace Glenn Stutzman, who retired.

While a number of non-profit agencies, churches and programs in the county work with families and young people, Big Brothers Big Sisters of Elkhart County is the one focused on solely on mentoring, she said.

Nelson hopes to find mentors to reach all 57 young people who are on the waiting list by providing mentors to help young people. “I’d prefer we not have any kids on a wait-list for mentors,” she said.

The new school-based programs are a way for someone to get involved. Volunteers are needed in both Elkhart and Goshen.

“Start here,” said Nelson to potential volunteers. “See if you like it. Hopefully you’ll want to do it for a lifetime.”

Anyone interested in exploring volunteering can contact Feeks at or by calling 574-535-9024.


Fundraiser planned

What: The Big Event, an annual dinner auction to raise money for the agency

When: 6 to 9 p.m. Thursday, Sept. 21

Where: The Crystal Ballroom at the Lerner Theatre 410 S. Main St., Elkhart

Speaker: Eric Stults, a former Major League Pitcher, who speak on the power of mentoring in his life. He played at Bethel College before the Los Angeles Dodgers drafted him in 2002. He pitched for the Dodgers and four other Major League teams and also played in Japan.

Other details: Guests will hear stories from local Bigs and Littles as well as learn about the agency’s newest program. A silent and live auction, dinner, drinks, and more are included with the cost of admission.

Tickets: $100 each or $750 for a table of eight

More info: 574-535-9024


For media:

You’re invited to The Big Event. Contact us if you’re interested. You’re also welcome to see the new program or interview Menessah Nelson.

Contact Menessah at:
Big Brothers Big Sisters of Elkhart County
2606 Peddlers Village Rd Ste 205 • Goshen, IN 46526
P: 574.535.9024