BY CARL DETROIA
In five years, I hope to be sitting front and center at a high school graduation. I am 70, so for me, this is both a goal and a prayer. But it won’t be my grandchild who’s getting a diploma that day.
I’ve been a “Big” with the Big Brothers Big Sisters organization for six years. During that time, my relationship with my “Little” has been rewarding and, at times, challenging. For the most part, I look forward to my time with him and find the few hours a month we share to be fun. As he matures, however, his needs change, and we’ve had a few teachable moments over the years.
More often than not, though, I listen rather than lecture. We’ve laughed together and played various games: chess, war ball, basketball, Chutes and Ladders. And now he wants to jump on a trampoline — him, not me.
After the first few years, however, he began to trust me enough that we could occasionally have a serious discussion about his behavior and well-being. Why? Not because I’m special: I’m not. I understand that I’m only a small part of my Little’s life, though I do care about him. But when he needed an adult, I was there for him, and I still am: I’m his Big.
My Little just turned 13: He’s made the honor roll, plays the drums and sings, runs cross-country and has now joined the Reynolds Middle School wrestling team. I asked him to write something about what the program means to him, and he was happy to help. Here’s what he came up with:
“Hello. I have a Big Brother in the BBBS community program, where the Little and the Big can go out and do stuff outside school property. For example, we go bowling, eating, go swim, etc. From the time that I’ve been in the program it has been a blast. First, I was in the school program, which wasn’t all that great: All we could do in elementary school was go to the gym or the library, but now we can go out in the world and do other things. I am happy to be part of Big Brothers Big Sisters. It also gives you a person that you can talk to about your feelings and your problems that you couldn’t talk about with most people you know. It gives you a trusting friend that understands you. This program is really fun and cool: If I had one word to describe it, I would say ‘amazing.’ I enjoy being a part of BBBS, and I think you will, too.”
Of course, each individual relationship is different. But here’s what another local volunteer’s 10-year-old Little, Cedysia, had to say about the program:
“I love my Big Sister and love spending time with her. I get to do lots of thing I’ve never done before, like swimming, rafting and playing tennis. We made Christmas gifts for my little brother and sister, and I learned how to sew a little bit. My Big Sister comes to my school and helps out in my class sometimes. She’s so good to me and makes me feel special. And I really love the way she talks. She’s a really neat lady: She’s like part of our family.”
Yet another Little had this to say:
“Since I met my Big Brother, I make better grades, I make more friends in school, and my mom and I get along better.”
In Western North Carolina, there are more than 600 children in Big Brothers and Big Sisters. But in Buncombe County alone, at least 70 young people are waiting to be matched with a Big. They need another adult in their life now, yet in most cases, they will wait at least a year. That’s precisely why we need more Big Brothers and Big Sisters (see box, “Kids in Need”).
Volunteers are vetted and trained, and every Big must make at least a one-year commitment to his or her Little. Volunteers are then placed in either the school or the community program. Most Bigs want to stay with their Little as long as possible, because it’s the dependable relationship that develops over time that can have a major impact on a young person’s life.
The YMCA supports this program by giving Bigs and Littles free memberships; other local organizations also help out when and where they can.
If you’re reading this, I hope you’ll search your soul to see if you can find there the commitment to help a young person. If not, please talk to your friends, clergy and civic groups to help us locate more volunteers.
All I can say is, for me, the rewards are definitely there.
Carl DeTroia has lived in Asheville for 21 years, taught at A-B Tech for 17 years and is married with four children and one grandchild.
To learn more about Big Brothers Big Sisters of WNC, or to volunteer, call 253-1470 or visit bbbswnc.org.