A big success

New Big Buddies coordinator Shelly Castaneda is a positive product of the program

Photo by Jody Isaackson Shelly Castaneda, the new Big Buddies coordinator, and her Big Buddy Diane Halgerson were one of the first pairings of the Lincoln-Lyon Big Buddy program when it was first established in 1990.

MARSHALL — Sometimes when kids get into trouble, adults give up on them. Not so with Shelly Castaneda and her Big Buddy, Diane Halgerson, both of Marshall. Castaneda grew up and into the position of Big Buddies coordinator, taking over the position on Dec. 27. It makes Halgerson a proud Big Buddy.

Halgerson and Connie Nuese established Big Buddies in 1990 when funding ran out for the previous version, Big Brothers/Big Sisters.

“That program was too expensive to run,” Halgerson said.

She and Castaneda were one of the first buddy pairings under the new program, which had a full program of kids already in 1991.

“K-Mart gave us a Christmas party that year,” she said.

Halgerson said that Castaneda was late for their first meeting as buddies.

“She was 9 years old when I went to her house to pick her up and meet her mother,” Halgerson said. “The original coordinator was there, too.”

“I was at a friend’s house,” Castaneda said.

Both freely admitted that Castaneda was a handful.

“We had our share of challenges along the way,” Halgerson said, “but we’ve always gotten through them.”

“There were a lot of people in Diane’s corner, I think, that told her to give up on me,” Castaneda said, “but she didn’t.”

This young mother got a job at the airport and has been a steady worker for a number of years, a good mom and also part-time college student thanks to the encouragement from her Big Buddy.

Then the Big Buddies coordinator position came up.

“I wouldn’t have applied for it, but Diane encouraged me to go for it,” Castaneda said.

“I told her she’d be perfect for it,” Halgerson said. “They’d be crazy if they didn’t hire her. She knows the system so well.”

That’s how Big Buddies works, Castaneda said. Big Buddies help kids that need a little more encouragement to be everything they can be.

“It’s a lifelong relationship with us,” Halgerson said. “It’s become like a mother/daughter relationship. I introduced her to people at college that helped her get financial aid. She helps me with things like getting groceries. I’m handicapped, so as time goes on, I’ll probably need more help.”

“I don’t mind doing those things,” Castaneda said. “I’ll never be able to repay everything she’s done for me. Anything I can do, I want to do.”

Castaneda started taking college courses at Southwest Minnesota State University toward a degree in justice administration in order to work in some sort of juvenile program like Big Buddies.

“I wanted to make sure she had the opportunities she needed to get the most out of life,” Halgerson said. “She takes the opportunities and runs with them. She’s pulling a 3.5 GPA, and I’m proud of her.”

The program has become multi-generational for these two buddies. Halgerson became a buddy to Castaneda’s daughter, as well. They spend time together after Ysabel gets out of school.

Castaneda is already in the midst of rebuilding the Big Buddies program. Where it currently has 10 matches with nine mentors, it hopes to get children paired and match the previous average of 15 to 25 pairings. She will also be planning Mentor Month activities for January, a Toss-a-thon fundraiser in April and other campaigns that help fund the Big Buddy program.

“Toss-a-thon is a matching campaign with United Way offering a dollar per dollar match up to $10,000,” Castaneda said.

The funds help pay for activities for the Buddies to do together. For example, if the pair wants to see a Mustang game at the college, the program buys the tickets for both the Little Buddy and the Big Buddy. There are also group activities that Big Buddies plan to include those Little Buddies not yet paired with a Big Buddy. Most of the unpaired Little Buddies are boys looking for a male mentor.

“We’re always looking for more mentors, especially male mentors,” Castaneda said. “We even have short-term pairing, like for four weeks.”

Castaneda is looking forward to making more buddy matches along with planning activities for the Lincoln-Lyon Big Buddy program.

The Big Buddy organization is housed in the round building on the west side of Saratoga Avenue, south of Minnesota Highway 23, Marshall.

Anyone interested in learning more about the Big Buddies program may call the office at 507-537-1416 or visit the web page, http://www.wcainc.org/bigbuddies/staff.html.