The Journal Gazette
Monday, January 04, 2021 1:00 am

Little effort -- Big reward

Mentorship program mutually beneficial

BLAKE SEBRING | For The Journal Gazette

Being a Big Brother is so much fun sometimes.

A couple of years ago, my Little brother said something goofy and I told him, “You are such a blonde sometimes.”

His immediate response: “What was your original hair color?”

For the past 10 years, I’ve been a volunteer through Big Brothers Big Sisters of Northeast Indiana, and I’ve enjoyed the experience so much I recently accepted a position with the agency. January is National Mentoring Month, and there are tremendous benefits of becoming a Big – besides the witty conversation.

When I decided to volunteer, I figured my nephews and godsons were old enough that they didn't need Uncle Blake as much. Like any good selection process, the interview and background check were a little challenging, but you're glad for that because this is an important opportunity. It also helps find you the perfect match.

My first School Buddy, a fourth-grader named Max, and I got along great – except he cheated at cards. I'm telling you, that little snot always seemed to win, and I'm still not sure how! And worse, then he'd sit there and brag about it for the rest of our time. Wow, could he talk trash. Trying to not back down and teach the boy proper manners, I retaliated with the traditional rejoinders like ``Oh, shut up!'' and ``I'll show you next time!''

Oh, yes, Max always knew who was boss!

Thank goodness there was never any money involved – though he always tried to sucker me in!

Max and I got along great. We always laughed more than anything else, often getting funny looks from passing teachers as they led their classes to the lunch hall. Trust me, it was usually Max's fault.

``Me? You're the one causing all the trouble!'' he'd say. I really have no idea what he was talking about.

After Max and his family moved to California that summer, my next Little was named Logan, a second-grader. Besides playing cards, we worked on some of his subjects, and I'm telling you, every week the words of my former teachers came flying out of my mouth somehow.

Tell you what, elementary school kids today can never stop giggling. This lack of self-control is awful, especially when it's directed at me. I just seem to have that effect around schools for some reason.

One day a month we’d go outside for recess. When we played basketball, suddenly I was better than I ever was growing up, maybe because I was two feet taller than every other player. I also watched him on the amusement park apparatus they have which we used to call monkey bars, and I've even pitched kickball. There's constant screaming – no, not from me going too high on the swing, but from the children running off steam.

One thing I realized about being a School Buddy is that in a way you can help the entire class because these kids are starved for male attention. It’s a little overwhelming if you spend too much time thinking about it, but it’s also incredibly rewarding. I got thank you notes and hugs all the time from kids who weren’t my School Buddy.

There's always tremendous need for help with this program, especially from men. Be prepared to be laughed at and teased quite a bit, and to smile the whole time, though it can be a really tough job listening to some little kid yell "UNO!'' constantly. And then you just sit back and listen to them giggle, the little cheaters.

Logan and I have been together for 10 years, and I could not be more proud of him. Most of the time, I sit back amazed at how far he has come and wonder how that happened. With his permission, I’m hoping to start the process over as a School Buddy next year.

Big Brothers Big Sisters offers various programs where you can help give a child a future. It’s a wonderful opportunity for singles, couples and retirees, and you’ll never have a more rewarding “hobby.” It’s one of the few things in life where the rewards are so much more than what you are asked to put in. The biggest cost? Simply attention.

To learn more about Big Brothers Big Sisters, please call 456-1600. Just don’t ask me for any UNO tips.

Another time, Logan said, “I guess we’re stuck together forever.”

Without a doubt, bud.


Blake Sebring is a volunteer with Big Brothers Big Sisters of Northeast Indiana.

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