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My Story as a "Big Brother"

In the late fifties and early sixties, there appeared on television a commercial for Big Brothers/Big Sisters. It used a quote the origin of which has been attributed without definite proof to multiple persons, including Abraham Lincoln, Bobby Jones, and others. Regardless of its origin, the quote is a brilliant one: “A person never stands so tall as when he or she stoops to help a child.” That quote has never left me. From the first day that I heard it on the commercials, I vowed to myself that “I will be a Big Brother one day.”

I did, indeed, keep that vow; and have been a participant in the Big Brothers/Big Sisters program since 1983— a source of great pride and accomplishment to me. Of all the things that I have done in my life, I think that to have been a Big Brother to, now, five boys has likely been the best thing that I have ever done. No matter what else might characterize my life, good or bad, I can always point to my experiences as a “Big” to a “Little" as something that has been, without reservation, productive, meaningful, and joyful— for the “littles,” for me, and for all of society.

After all, what could be better than to help a boy or girl in challenging circumstances, vulnerable to failure and disappointment, at risk to live an unfulfilled, sad life, to instead transition over time to an adolescent, young man or woman with expanded horizons. Is it not the coolest thing in the world to help another, especially a child, develop self-confidence and to set no limits upon himself or herself. Of course, it IS the coolest thing in the world!

And that is what BBBS makes possible, including here in the Springfield region, with its superior organizational staff and volunteers. The statistics prove that the BBBS model to help kids at risk absolutely works. But I will leave further detailed discussion of this to the dedicated staff of BBBS of The Capitol Region. For now, I share with you a bit more my about my personal journey with BBBS.

My first four “Littles” range in age from 43 through 18, and are respectively: a master chef, organization executive and former US Marine, business department head and aspiring entrepreneur, and high school senior and aspiring Marine. I maintain contact with all of them. A notable highlight of my life occurred this past November when I attended the Philadelphia- area wedding of my third “Little,” Roger Y, and served as his Best Man.

My fifth and current “Little” is Dayton B, here in Springfield. Dayton is now fourteen years old. He and I have been together six and one half years, having been officially matched on December 23, 2009, Dayton’s eighth birthday, just a few months after I first moved to Springfield. Over the years, Dayton and I have shared together hundreds of experiences including: adventures, discussions, events, gatherings, exhibits, movies, sporting events, meals, and family events— both his and mine. There is hardly any museum or park within one hundred miles of Springfield that we have not visited. There is no sport that we have not either played or watched together. We have shared emotions, including those of disappointment and those of elation. We have reminded ourselves continuously of the importance to read, to speak and write properly, to always be respectful and tolerant, to be good citizens. We speak of the need for him to treat his family members well, including his troubled father.

I remind him that he has an obligation to take good care of his mind and body and to make the best of his talents that are considerable. I encourage him to pursue new activities, to consider multiple aspirations, to not place any limits on himself. For example, do start to lift weights, do consider to try out for high school football, do learn to do magic tricks, do consider to join Boy Scouts. And, read, read, read, perhaps my most important entreaty to him. Study properly all the school subjects. Help others. Expand those horizons. Become a citizen of the world that needs you and welcomes you. And, yes, I try to lead by example, as another thing that I teach Dayton is that the worst thing in the world is hypocrisy.

How do I know that all this is not just platitudinous twaddle? Because I do see Dayton’s progress— his incremental growth physically, emotionally, and mentally, week after week, month after month. I think I really do have a positive impact on his life. And it also works the other way: as I, myself, get to go out and enjoy his company and all the things we do and places we go, most of which I would not likely not experience without him at my side.

I have confidence in Dayton, although I always worry about ongoing elements in his life that might have negative impact on him. But I will continue to be his “Big,” forever and a day, even after the formal aspect of our BBBS match comes to an end as he grows older.

In addition to the above advices that I give Dayton, I tell him that in turn I request of him only one thing to repay me: that one day he too become, himself, a Big Brother.

Until sooner, EG

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