Student Shelly Castaneda Heads Big Buddies Program in Lincoln, Lyon Counties

Published Thursday, January 26, 2017
Shelly Castaneda
Shelly Castaneda

The Big Buddies program in Lincoln and Lyon counties has a new coordinator, and who better to fill that role than a former Little Buddy and current SMSU student?

Marshall native Shelly Castaneda is 15 credits and an internship away from completing her Justice Administration degree at SMSU, and is excited to step into a larger role in the program that has greatly impacted her life.

Castaneda was one of the first Little Buddies in the program when it began in Marshall in 1990. The continued support of her Big Buddy, Diane Halgerson, has helped her manage a busy life, including a full-time job, two part-time jobs, and two or three college classes per semester, all while raising her daughter, Ysabel. Castaneda has also served as a Girl Scout leader and is currently the president of the SMSU Oyate Club.

“I don’t think I’d be here, doing this job, going to school, taking this many steps in the right direction, if it hadn’t been for my big buddy,” she said. “She gave me confidence. It meant a lot to have someone who believed in me.”

Participating in the Big Buddies program for over 26 years and serving on the advisory board for the past 8 years made Castaneda uniquely qualified for the coordinator position. Her duties vary from day to day and include reviewing applications, handling match meetings and coordinating monthly large group meetings for the Big and Little Buddies, overseeing after-school activities, and planning larger summer trips like Valleyfair and Twins games.

The overall goal is to provide each child with a consistent mentor, something for which Castaneda is very grateful. “I still keep in touch with my Big Buddy,” she said, “and when the position came up she encouraged me to go for it.”

Another source of encouragement was Associate Justice Administration Professor BC Franson. “In our Police Courts and Corrections Management class last fall, she had us write resumes and cover letters and practice mock interviews,” Castaneda said. “The feedback from Franson and our guest speakers was helpful for the Big Buddies interview, especially since I had been at my previous job for 11 years.”

Castaneda also credited her juvenile justice and social skills classes for preparing her to work well with youth.

Little Buddies are children ages 5-17 who live or attend school in the Lincoln-Lyon County area and would benefit from a positive influence in their life. The students are matched with a volunteer adult mentor, and the buddies meet about twice a month. The pairs spend time together doing a variety of activities, from attending athletic events to crafts, hunting or fishing. “We really encourage the pairs to make it their own, and we try to match buddies that have similar interests,” she said.

The Big Buddies program is always looking for more Big Buddies. “We have a number of college students involved, and we could especially use more male mentors,” she said.

Castaneda encourages any interested students to contact her for more information about getting involved as a Big Buddy. She can be reached at 507-537-1416, or applications can be picked up at the office at 1400 S. Saratoga St. in Marshall.

More information is also available at: wcainc.org/bigbuddies.