For every successful "Little" in the Big Brothers Big Sisters of Northern Nevada program there is at least one "Big," acting as a role model and providing support. This includes Marian Lanius, a Reno resident for more than 20 years, who became involved with the non-profit more than a decade ago.

In fact, Lanius was recognized as Big Sister of the Year in 2006, and even received a volunteerism award of $1,000 from U.S. Bank that went to the organization. She also served on its board for six years, acting as board chair for two consecutive terms, and having an active role in fund-raising.

BBBSNN, which matches adults, the Bigs, with at-risk children, the Littles, encourages them to do things together, such as going to the park, heading to a museum or just hanging out to talk. The organization serves Reno, Sparks, Sun Valley, North Valleys, Carson City, Minden and Gardnerville and has made more than 3,000 matches since its inception in 2001.

The Littles in the program are living in poverty, and may lack important opportunities to receive encouragement from adults outside their home and work toward their full potential. Each match receives support from a professional match specialist, who checks in monthly and assists both Bigs and their families in numerous ways. Since joining, Lanius has been a Big to two Littles, including Heather who she served for eight years, and Kapua, who she has now served for four years and counting.

"BBBSNN provides a great service to the at-risk children of our community who need and want a caring adult to spend time with them," says Lanius, who moved to Reno from Portland, Ore. in 1994. "Not only does the child benefit, but it also really brings out the kid in the volunteer."

Take us back a bit and tell us how you initially became involved with Big Brothers Big Sisters of Northern Nevada. So often our places of employment send us in new directions, right?

U.S. Bank provided the initial grant to the agency to get it up and running. I was asked by the bank's Community Relations Department Manager to consider serving on the board. I was somewhat familiar with what the agency did, since it is a well-respected national organization. But I wanted to know more and to get deeply involved. I immediately asked about the process of becoming a Big and decided there was no better way to learn about the cause than to go through that process and to become a Big myself.

What has drawn you to the program so much that you have not stopped volunteering since 2003?

Over the years, the local agency has seen amazing growth in the number of children served and in its board and staff. I consider it to be a premier professional agency where my time is well spent and the volunteer rewards are great. Therefore, after serving my time as a board member, I have continued to remain loyal, serving as a Big Sister since 2003.

It's my understanding that relationships between the Bigs and the Littles truly make the program, so please tell us about one of your Littles.

I was matched with Heather in 2003. She was just 11 years old and had been in foster care for two years. She was the oldest of four children who were all removed from their parents due to severe neglect. The first time I met her, she didn't even have the strength to look up at me and only spoke a few words. After a couple of months, she began to realize she could trust me to follow through on my promises. Usually on a Saturday afternoon, I would pick her up and spend a few hours doing simple things like going to the movies, out to lunch, or for walks around Virginia Lake. She began to open up about her feelings and I began to see her find joy in her life.

Tell us about how a match comes to its end.

My match with Heather ended when she graduated from high school at age 19. She was the first in her family to do this. It was a difficult achievement and lots of hard work on her part, but an incredibly bold accomplishment. I was so proud of her!

What has been most rewarding about your service?

My most memorable moment was in 2006 at an annual BBBSNN recognition dinner. To my surprise, I was awarded "Big Sister of the Year" and even more surprising, the award was presented to me by Heather, who found the poise and inner strength to come to the podium and speak to the audience as to why I deserved the honor.

Why is it so important to volunteer in the community? They say that when you give the rewards come back to you. Is this true of your experience as a Big?

I am a strong believer in volunteering. Volunteering with Big Brothers Big Sisters not only helps the Littles see life from a different perspective, but it also gives Bigs a better understanding of the issues that face at-risk children living right here in our community.

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