Little Moments, Big Insight

When parents enroll their kids with Big Brothers Big Sisters, they identify specific areas of concern regarding their child’s development. Sharon worried that her grandson, Larry, a straight-A 4th grader, was taking his schoolwork a tad too obsessively.

Sometimes it’s tough being the smartest kid in class. He’s had a hard time with bullies and fitting in socially, something of which she is painfully aware – when he placed in the Spelling Bee he said: “I was popular for one day.”

Sharon’s hope was that a mentor might help him kick back his heels and enjoy life a little.

Enter Michell. Her background in social work made her an ideal Big Sister prospect. The fact that she has four young children of her own also marked her as a non-traditional candidate. But BBBS believes that the right opportunity exists for every approved volunteer. Sometimes, one human being is just waiting to meet another at the right time.

The staff thought Larry might benefit from hanging out with a large, rowdy family group. Sharon agreed that socializing in a safe, positive setting might be just the ticket. And over the past seven years, Larry’s confidence has grown by leaps and bounds.

“Michell is such a very caring, good human being,” says Sharon.“I don’t know what we would have done without her. They’re just a couple of clowns when they get together.”

Little Bro and Big Sis hit it off right from the first. Ever since that October meeting in 2003, they’ve seen each other most every week. Hanging out at the house, racing go-carts, visiting farms, going Christmas shopping and attending agency events are all staple activities. For his birthday Larry got to choose between Red Lobster and International House of Pancakes, his two favorite places to eat. He calls Michell’s mother “Grand-Mom,” just like everybody else in the family. He’ll plop down happily with her sons to play video games. One year he worked on his Cub Scouts Pinebox Derby with the family.  Larry wasn’t able to participate in this event the previous year, just because there was no one who could help him build an entry. 

“He’s a really great kid,” says Michell of the now 10th grader. “He’s so into everything!”

In the past he’s talked about becoming a paleontologist. The truth is, this kid is capable of becoming anything he wants to be.

He’s a considerate young man, too. As a big Elvis fan (her dogs are named after the King and Priscilla), Michell was tickled with the Presley Monopoly game Larry and Sharon found for her family at Christmas.

This tangible present represents something the staff sees almost daily – that for all a mentor might add to a child’s life, the gifts received in return are every bit as meaningful.

BBBS hosts a lot of yearly activities to bolster social skills for our kids. But the fundamental one-to-one aspect of a Big/Little relationship means the best conversation often comes once the crowd disperses. For Larry and Michell, the drive home often has been a time to tackle tough topics.

A few years back, as they were returning from an activity, Larry asked his Big Sis why she decided to quit working at her job. She explained that at last she’d become fed up with her boss’s discrimination against certain other employees. After a little pause she backtracked, thinking he might not have understood.

“Larry,” she asked, “do you know what ‘discriminate’means?”

“Sure,” he nodded readily. “It means when someone thinks or says bad things about you because you’re a man or a woman. Or because your race is different.”

Michell nodded, surprised as always by his surefire response. Then Larry grew thoughtful. His face twisted into a frown as he tried to comprehend the absurdity of such behavior.

“But that’s a really dumb thing,” he finally added. “Because we’re all one race. We’re all the HUMAN race.”

Over the years since, Larry has earned Eagle Scout honors. This is no surprise to his mentor or those of us who know him. He embodies the code of scouting virtues, a young man who’s: trustworthy, loyal, helpful, friendly, courteous, kind, obedient, cheerful, thrifty, brave, clean and reverent. In short, he’s all the things we hope to see in young people who will lead the way for others into the future.