When I became a Big Brother 10 years ago, I had no idea how my life was about to change.
For some reason, I walked into the program thinking the one hour I spent a week with my first Little – third grader David – would mean drilling him on his spelling words or quizzing him on his state capitals.
We never did get around to that.
Instead, we spent four years playing football outside at recess, watching his friendship circle expand to more than 20 classmates and talking about things that really mattered to him. The day he graduated from sixth grade and climbed on the bus to head home, I gave him and his friends a big hug and then – when they were hanging out the window calling to me as the bus pulled away – I started crying.
Imagine that, a then-51-year-old man starting out trying to make a difference in one life and then having to say goodbye to 20 lives that touched his forever. They not only took my time during those first four years, they took my heart.
After David, I knew that being in the Big Brothers/Big Sisters program had hooked me, like a fish taking a lure.
Why do I love being a Big Brother?
Here are a couple reasons:
I love to simply listen when my Little or one of his friends has a story to share. I know that sometimes I am the only one listening in that child’s life. I know that building trust – as in any relationship – is the secret to being in the Big Brother/Big Sister program.
I love to share laughs with the kids. One recess about eight years ago, I told a group of 12 kids that I would throw the football up in the air and they would have to catch it to earn points, like the baseball version of “500.” So my Little goes up to catch the ball and he jams his finger. He goes crying to the office. I felt terrible. But a few minutes later he was back with a smile on his face and his finger wrapped in a splint. So instead of throwing the ball, I decide it’s safer to punt the football to them. Well, my Little suddenly decided he wanted to block one of my punts. He came rushing in at the last minute and the ball caught him right in the nose. He grabbed his nose, which started to bleed, and headed back to the office for medical attention. We laughed about it later… I think it was about a year later.
For all the talking the kids do – and they have hundreds of stories to share – they do love to see how you react to certain situations and certain questions. That’s when we did our best communicating. Some of my most important lessons to them were things like being responsible for your actions, show respect for other people and take time to be a friend. The truth is, I learned as much from them as they learned from me. Big Brothers/Big Sisters is a two-way street.
If I’m having an “off day” at work or with how I feel, there is nothing like going to visit my Little and his friends. Their welcoming smiles and hugs have changed my day more than a few times.
So after 10 years of being a Big Brother, I was all set to move on with my life after this year. But then I asked myself, what would I be moving on to that could be more important than this? I couldn’t come up with a better answer. So I have volunteered to begin another stint in the fall with a new Little, since my previous one just “graduated” to junior high.
When I tell people that I’m a Big, some of them say, “I’ll do that when I have time.” And that makes me laugh.
During my last four year stint with my Little – a school-based match that takes one hour a week – I was on boards and committees involving Rotary, NMC and the Grand Traverse Bay YMCA, not to mention writing a weekly newspaper column. Guess what? I still had time to be a Big Brother.
It’s all about priorities. It’s all about taking the time to make a difference in a child’s life… and then finding they are making an even bigger difference in yours.