SOUTHERN INDIANA — Mentoring can give a child opportunities to learn, grow and be successful in school and life, and a new program in Southern Indiana is adding a unique piece to that.

Big Brother and Big Sisters of Kentuckiana recently launched “Bigs with Badges” in the Indiana area, a new program that will match kids, or “Littles,” up with “Bigs” in law enforcement and other first responding departments.

Kristin Milosevich, chief development officer for Big Brothers Big Sisters of Kentuckiana, said the new program is a great way to connect kids with safety officers, a way to provide guidance to the children and build trust between the communities.

“That really is an effort for us to connect the law enforcement community with the youth that we serve and ultimately build bridges,” she said.

Since the program launched, departments are already stepping up to the plate. The Jeffersonville Fire Department has 15 firefighters committed to the program so far, and Milosevich said she hopes to have them in action within a few months.

“We're excited. Any time we get an opportunity to influence young people in our community [is good],” Jeffersonville Fire Chief Eric Hedrick said.

And it's a mutually beneficial program, he said. Not only can the firefighters get an opportunity to be a positive influence in a child's life, but they can help promote trust in law enforcement and safety officers in general.

It will also help the firefighters, he said.

“We deal with scenarios throughout the day that aren't always positive — from the overdose situation to accidents to loss of property and life,” Hedrick said.

“Any positive interaction we can do while on duty is therapeutic for our guys, as well, and it helps them grow and become a better responder.”

The organization currently works in partnerships with local schools to help pair up kids with mentors who will be a good match, based on shared interests, personality types and goals for the relationship. Some have had struggles at home or academically and socially, some may simply have parents who work long hours.

“We know through research that if you have that intervention of a mentor, we see immediate impact,” she said. “We start seeing better grades, better attendance.

“Long term, we see that our kids are more likely to graduate from high school, they're more likely to go on to college, they're more likely to avoid risky behavior [like] drugs and alcohol abuse.”

Dava Kendall and 8-year-old Kennedy Arthurs have been paired up since the beginning of the school year through a program at Arthurs' school, Wilson Elementary. The two meet up at least once a week during an after school program.

“We always start with homework, then I always bring something fun to do,” Kendall said. “We've made slime, silly putty, we've worked jigsaw puzzles, we've made homemade lava lamps.”

For the past few weeks, they've also been working on homemade Valentines for Arthurs' class.

Kendall said she was drawn to the program because she wanted to help make a difference in a child's life.

“I think that in a lot of families anymore, both parents work and [kids] are home alone by themselves or entertaining themselves with electronics,” she said.

“I just think [this program] is important and it gives them a great social skill.”

Arthurs' father, Eric, said he and her mother both work a lot and he's glad that there is another positive person in his daughter's life. And he's already seen a difference.

“I think it's a good deal for kids to get into that and learn other things besides from their parents,” he said. “Some parents don't have all the time. You both work to make ends meet.

He said his daughter looks forward to her hangouts with Kendall each week.

“She said 'Dad make sure you don't pick me up before 6 because my Big Sister is coming and we've got things to do,'” he said. “I think it makes her want to go to school more and learn and study.”

Jerry Finn, executive director of the Horseshoe Foundation of Floyd County and member of the Southern Indiana Mentoring Partnership, said he knows the value of mentoring — he mentors four middle school students — and he wants to see the prevalence grow in the community.

“We have so many kids in our community that could really benefit from somebody who could just kind of walk that journey of life with them,” he said. “We would love it if every child in our school system had somebody they could turn to if they had questions or need some support or just need a friend or help with homework.

“I do everything I can to promote mentoring, because I see the effect it has on kids.”

Aprile Rickert is the crime and courts reporter at the News and Tribune. Contact her via email at aprile.rickert@newsandtribune.com or by phone at 812-206-2115. Follow her on Twitter: @Aperoll27.