In the spring of 1984, a dear friend named Martha suggested I look into the Big Brothers program, the one that matches men with boys who are lacking positive adult male role models in their lives. It was an interesting time in my life, not unlike now, one in which I was in the midst of a transition. I was 21 years old, working a fun but low-paying and soon-to-be ending job. I was three years removed from high school and not really thinking about college.
I had not heard of Big Brothers and wondered why Martha recommended it. She said something to the effect of, “You’re good with kids and I think you’d get a lot out of it.”
The Big Brothers’ office wasn’t far from my north Seattle apartment so I made an appointment. I still remember the name of the person with whom I met, Cindy Libowsky, who became my caseworker. The process of screening men for a placement is a long one so it wasn’t until August that I was matched with my “little brother,” Matt. I remember my early meetings with Matt as feeling like the stars had come into alignment. I felt good about myself and that I was making a difference in someone’s life. This is what drives me to this day.
Clearly, this recommendation from Martha was life-changing for me. It made clear my calling, that I am here to serve people and that this would begin as a teacher. For the first time, I was drawn to college, now knowing what I wanted to do.
Big Brothers asks its volunteers to commit to a weekly activity lasting 2 to 3 hours with their little brothers. So deeply engaged and having the time available, I met with Matt twice each week for at least that amount of time. On Wednesdays, I brought him to my apartment and together, after a quick trip to the grocery store, we’d make dinner. One night we invited his mom and younger sister, Mica, to join us. Matt was in charge of the dinner and made boiled hot dogs. His mom said it was the best meal she had ever eaten and I think she meant it.
On Sunday afternoons, we’d go somewhere, often to a park, to play. Sometimes I involved other members of my family, one of my brothers, Steve, and his wife, Deb, living close by. My other brother, Scott, joined on a least one of these occasions on a day that included Mica. I can still hear Scott’s voice playfully referring to Mica as “that pesky little girl” during a game of whiffle ball in Steve’s & Deb’s backyard. Scott’s wife at the time, Mary Jo, helped me make Matt a beautiful slot car track for his 8th birthday in September.
Late in the year, Cindy from the Big Brothers office contacted me to say that I had been named Big Brother of the Year. Publicity pictures were scheduled to be taken with Seattle mayor Charles Royer. I picked up Matt from his elementary school to take him. He was all dressed up and the pride resonated from him as I, his “big brother,” walked into his classroom to take him to meet the mayor.
For those of you who have appreciated me as your teacher, who have appreciated PSCS as a school, and/or appreciated me as a mentor, you can trace it back to Martha’s recommendation.
Becoming a big brother propelled me forward.