YOUNGSTOWN Mentors change young lives

In Mahoning and Trumbull counties, 150 children await Big Brothers Big Sisters mentors.
CANFIELD -- When 14-year-old Taknia Washington is approached by her younger sister about a problem, Taknia tries to make her feel better.
"She tells me how she does at school," Taknia said. "When she's down, I try to cheer her up."
Taknia said she's learned to be a better sister from her own "Big Sister," Laura Faunda.
Faunda volunteers as Taknia's mentor through the Big Brothers Big Sisters of Mahoning Valley organization.
The "sisters," both of Youngstown, said they have a special bond since meeting two years ago.
"She encourages me to be a better person. When I'm down, she just encourages me, lifts me up. And I like that," Taknia said. "... She's the main one I talk to about my problems. I don't talk to anyone else. I'm closer to her than my family."
Faunda and Taknia joined other Big Brothers Big Sisters volunteers and kids for a picnic Saturday at Argus Park.
Big Brother Big Sisters of Mahoning Valley held the event in an effort to recruit more men and women to volunteer to mentor a child.
The group serves children ages 7 to 15 who are at risk or disadvantaged. Many come from single parent homes.
Currently, there are 150 children waiting for a big brother or sister, said Brian Higgins, the organization's case worker supervisor.
Caseworker Carri Allen said volunteers must be at least 18, live in Mahoning or Trumbull counties, have a car and valid insurance and have time to give one-on-one, consistent support to a child.
For information, those interested in volunteering can reach the group at (330) 545-0002.Being thereFor Annette Kniseley, 11, of Warren, growing up with all brothers means there's little "girl time" for her, said the child's big sister, Jennifer Boarts of Youngstown.
The pair met three years ago and, ever since, Annette has started coming out of her shell. They work on school assignments, go swimming and will vacation together later this month.
"She's just a part of the family," said Boarts, who grew up the youngest of three children and never had a younger sibling.
"It's not really a choice anymore," she added. "She's just part of my life. It's not like it's a hard thing to do. I enjoy her. I enjoy her a lot."
Taknia, the oldest of three girls, said Faunda was there for her when the girls' mother died of heart problems in February 2001. The sisters were separated, with Taknia and the youngest living with an aunt. A middle sister is living with her father.
Faunda and Taknia spend time together, going to movies. When Taknia's mother was sick, all three sisters spent nights at Faunda's home.
"It's not so much the things we did together, it's the things we've been through," Faunda said. "... Her whole world changed."
She said she would recommend that others mentor a youth in the same way.
"You touch each other's lives," she said. "You never know when you can make a complete difference in that child's life."

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