Big Brothers Big Sisters

About 18 months ago, a friend mentioned to me that he had been thinking about becoming a “Big Brother”…  As I had always had wonderful mentors in my own life and have served as a mentor to others many times before, I thought that I could encourage my friend by signing up with him.  Talk about a blessing in disguise!

Within about three weeks of filling out the Online Volunteer Application, I found myself sitting in the living room of my soon-to-be lil’ brothers home, with his “Auntie” (who is actually his biological mother’s cousin and now legal guardian), the BBBS Coordinator, and my lil’ brother “Mike” (not his real name).  As we sat there in a type of “get to know you” session to see if Mike and I were a good match, I learned a lot about him.  He was 11 years old, he did well in school, he loved to draw, he liked playing video games, and was actually very outgoing.  After our meeting, I mentioned to the BBBS Coordinator that I was really surprised how “normal / great” Mike was, to which she responded:  ”BBBS isn’t a rescue organization, it’s a preventative maintenance organization.”  This blew my mind…  Rather than wait until these children are displaying severe behavioral problems, BBBS is focusing on simply keeping them on the right track by providing them with an older mentor and friend!  Genius.

Don’t get me wrong…  Most of these kids have had a tough upbringing, but the resilience of the human spirit is strong.  Mike is actually the oldest of four children.  His younger brother lives with him and his two younger sisters are back and forth between his house and the home of another cousin.  His biological mother has not been fit to care for the children in few years though she visits about once a year and his father has been out of the picture since he was about 5-years-old.  Despite this, he is an amazing young man!  As his “Auntie” is single, he understands that he is the “man of the house”.  And though some may argue “he’s just a boy!”, this situation is becoming more and more common everyday:  Children growing up in single parent homes, overwhelming devoid of a strong, positive, male influence.  And that’s where BBBS comes in…

Over the past 18-months, Mike and I have had an absolute blast!  As we are both adventurous, our goal for all of our interactions was to do something that Mike had never done before.  We started out by eating at restaurants he’d never eaten at.  Then we went to the zoo.  And the batting cages.  And the golf driving range.  And bowling.  And mini-golf…  As we are part of the BBBS Sports Buddies program, we regularly get free tickets to the professional sporting events in the area, so we been to many Rays baseball games, Lightning hockey games, and Bucs football games.  We’ve also done crazy stuff like going to the Trampoline Arena and spending the day racing Go-Karts!  We definitely go the movies a lot too!  Did I mention we go out to eat all the time?  And we usually get ice cream or a slurpee on our way around town?

If you haven’t figured it out by now, I think I enjoy being a big brother as much if not more than Mike.  And though doing all of these activities is a blast, my favorite part of our relationship is that every Wednesday night I pick Mike up and together we attend the Middle School Youth Group at the local church.  This is great as I have been volunteering with this youth group for a number of years and it is an awesome place full of positive male role models.  Mike definitely appreciates it too.

Over the past 18-months, I’ve had the opportunity to celebrate two birthdays with Mike (he’s now 13-years-old).  During that time, I’ve watched him continually growing from a nice young boy into a respectful and conscious (tall) young man.  (He’ll be taller than me by the end of the year.)  That said, it hasn’t been all roses…  Mike got a bad report card last year and it was my duty to cancel our trip to the drag races and the bucs game that we had planned for that weekend.  I know, he’s only in 6th grade and it’s not the end of the world, but being a good friend, a big brother, and a mentor, at times requires tough love.  No worries though, his grades are back on track!

To anyone who is even remotely considering volunteering with Big Brothers Big Sisters, I highly recommend it.  These relationships mean the world to the kids and they are an absolute blast to be a part of.  I consider myself very blessed to be a part of this organization and know that the “harvest is plentiful, but the workers are few.”

Click here to learn more:  Big Brothers Big Sisters

Update: 11/29/2013

My little brother Mike and I just celebrated our 3-Year Anniversary!  Simply put, it has been an awesome experience.  Last term, Ivan got 7 A’s and 1 B on his report card, and that’s in the accelerated program!  He has gone through a major growth spurt and is now about 5′ 11″ (at age 14).  He starts high school next year and just joined a recreational football league.  I’m really looking forward to going to his high school football games next year!

If you have questions or comments, simply drop them in the form below or shoot me an email.