VALDOSTA -- Smiles lit the faces of 16 children in the Big Brothers Big Sisters program as they opened gifts at a Christmas party Sunday night sponsored by the Student Activity Board of Citizens Community Bank.

The children had just feasted on pizza and goodies at the party at the USDA Field Service Center. Earlier, they had been to the Ashley House for the elderly and disabled where they made ornaments for the residents and sat and talked with them.

Big Brothers Big Sisters is a program which matches children in the community in a one-to-one relationship of mentoring and friendship by adult volunteers. The program serves 170 children in Lowndes, Echols, Lanier and Brooks counties. There are more than 200 adult volunteers in the four counties, but more male mentors are needed, according to a spokesman.

Just what does the program mean to the children?

"I like for my Big Sister (Veronica Malone) to spend time with me and take me places," said Shantegra Wade, 9, a third-grader at S.L. Mason Elementary School.

Eleven-year-old Dylan Willis of Cornerstone Christian Academy said he enjoys going to Wild Adventures and bowling with his Big Brother, Michael Rivera.

Those interested in joining the BBBS program may call (229) 253-8851. Those who aren't able to be a mentor may still help out financially or by volunteering with activities, the spokesman said.

It was the fifth year the Student Activity Board of Citizens Community Bank had sponsored a Christmas party for the Big Brothers Big Sisters program participants.

The activity board is made up of 18 high school seniors from Lowndes High, Valdosta High, Valwood and Georgia Christian schools, according to Beverly Edwards of Citizens Community Bank. The students are nominated by their school counselors and interviewed.

"They make a commitment they will be involved in the board's activities," Edwards said. "We are teaching the kids to give back to their community and to make it a better place to live."

Margaret Strickland, VHS senior, enjoys participating on the activity board. "It teaches you life lessons and helps you be prepared to serve your community in the future."

The students have worked one night at the Food Bank and one Saturday on a Habitat house.

"We will be doing a Valentine party for the Lowndes Advocacy Resource Center in February," Edwards said.

At the first meeting of the activity board each year, the United Way director tells the students about the agencies its serves. Other programs include Glenn Copeland, president of Citizens Community Bank, talking to the activity board on banking -- how the CCB differs from large banks. CCB has been in existence for 76 years and is locally owned by D.K. Hollis. It has four branches -- Hahira, Moven and two in Valdosta.

In March, the students will be taken on a tour of the Annette Howell Turner Center for the Arts, and in April the bank will host a banquet for the activity board and their parents. The students receive $50 for serving on the board.

Strickland's favorite project so far has been working on the Habitat house. "You see firsthand what it takes to build a house, and you see how beneficial the program is."

In addition to Strickland, other students on the activity board include Alex Hobrat, Kristen Faucette, Niki Drossos, Katie Huitt, Patrick Powell, Deshan Harris, Kerry Laster, Aimee Watkins, Mark Davis, Stewart Joseph, Philip Braley, Patrick Poole, Hunter New, Caley Stokes, Zachery Baker, Jordan Holton and Emily Miller.

To contact Lifestyles editor Elizabeth Butler, call 244-3400, ext. 256.

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