Big Brothers Big Sisters: Making a big impact in the lives of kids in our community

As the features writer for The SUN for about a year now, this is the story I’ve been waiting to write. I view the FOCUS feature section of the paper as a way to connect readers with the most positive parts of our community. And because I have seen first hand what a positive difference Big Brothers Big Sisters (BBBS) makes on everyone who participates, it is my honor to report about the program here and encourage more Pagosans to support BBBS in some way, either as a mentor, sponsor, or by signing up a child who could benefit from a caring and fun relationship with an adult mentor. Since January is National Mentoring Month, there is no time like the present to make the commitment to get involved in BBBS.

I know, through my own experience as a Big Sister to fifteen year-old Hannah and as a Big Couple, along with my husband, to fifteen year-old Zack, that the program is enjoyable, challenging and rewarding. But in interviewing another BBBS match for this story, I was further inspired to try new things with my Little Sister. The match between Mike Short and his Little Brother, Robert, sounds like a relationship with enough adventure, fun and creativity to motivate dozens of new volunteers to sign up and get in on some of the fun.

When I called Robert, 13, to ask about his experiences as a Little Brother, I had to write fast to keep up with the list of all the things he loves to do with Mike.

“We built a kayak, and we go and take it on the lake; we re-built an old go-cart and ride around in that; we go fishing; we go snowmobiling; we go hiking and backpacking. It’s really fun having a Big Brother because you get to get out and explore. I get to try out a lot of new things,” Robert said.

Big Brother Mike was also enthusiastic as he told me about the fun the two have together.

“We are a really good match,” Mike said. “Robert reminds me of myself when I was his age. We like a lot of the same things, so we always have fun together.”

Mike is a pilot, so one year he took Robert to a fly-in up near Denver where they had all sorts of interactive activities about planes and piloting for kids. And while they were up near Denver for the fly-in, they made a weekend out of it and went to the Renaissance Festival.

“Robert really liked both the fly-in and the Renaissance Festival. It was a fun weekend,” Mike said.

As fun as all this sounds though, it’s important to remember that being a Big Brother doesn’t have to mean spending a lot of money or doing elaborate things.

“Sometimes we just play basketball together, or when the weather is bad, we hang out and play video games,” Mike said.

Stacia Kemp, director of Big Brothers Big Sisters in Pagosa Springs said, “A lot of times, potential volunteers think they have to do very elaborate activities, and they think it’s very complicated. But it’s really just about incorporating a Little Brother or Sister into your life like you would any other friend — it’s not about taking them to Broncos games all the time.”

Indeed, some of the best times I’ve had with my own Little Sister have been just hanging out and talking, walking together outside on a nice day, or drinking hot chocolate by a fire on a stormy day. But, as Mike and Robert’s relationship suggests, there is the potential within the program to find a buddy with whom the sky’s the limit.

My husband and I have a passion for the wilderness, and we have been thrilled to be able to share that with our Little Brother, Zack. And Zack has brought a new quality of the thrill of discovery to our experience of the backcountry.

One great thing about BBBS is the program strives to match volunteers — called “Bigs” — with children in need of a mentor — called “Littles” — who have similar interests and penchants. And, as research has proven, a lot of good things happen as a result of BBBS matches. In a study done during the early 1990s, researchers found that after 18 months of spending time with their Bigs, the Little Brothers and Little Sisters were 46 percent less likely to begin using illegal drugs, 27 percent less likely to begin using alcohol, 52 percent less likely to skip school and 37 percent less likely to skip a class. In addition, many became more confident of their performance in school, one-third were less likely to hit someone and were more likely to get along better with their families.

Local evidence suggests much of the same.

Stacia Kemp spoke about one Pagosa match that has made a big difference in the Little’s life.

“We have one Big and Little who have been together since last February,” Kemp said. “Last year, the Little Brother’s grades were very, very poor. In fact, he was failing. But this first semester, his grades were all As and Bs. The Little’s father is not in the picture. He’s being raised by a supportive and dedicated mother, but having the influence of a caring adult male has made a big difference. It’s not like the match is always studying and working on homework together, it’s just that the Little is a lot more motivated and happier, so he’s naturally doing better in school both socially and academically.”

And the benefits go both ways.

A Big Brother in Durango, John Schwob, pointed out what he personally gains from volunteering.

“It makes me feel younger,” he said. “How could it not? This is my best chance to pay back society, by helping kids to be good citizens.”

When asked about the commitment and time, Schwob said, “It’s less work than I thought it would be. You just have to show up, the rest takes care of its self.”

There are a number of ways aside from signing up as a Big that you can contribute to BBBS. Recently Pagosa BBBS began a program called Big For a Day. The idea is that a local organization (a business, or a service organization or a club, for example) sponsors one of the monthly outings that BBBS puts on each month for Pagosa matches. The sponsoring organization helps find a location and provides the supplies necessary for the group of Bigs and Littles in Pagosa to come and do something fun together. It also gives members of the sponsoring organization the chance to try out being a mentor for the day.

“We match volunteers from the sponsoring organization with children who are on the waiting list for a Big. And that way, everyone, the waiting Little, and the potential Big, gets a sense of what BBBS is like,” explained Kemp.

You can also get involved this year by signing up to Bowl For Kids’ Sake. This is BBBS’ big annual fundraiser. Groups of locals sign up as a team to come and bowl at a special bowling alley set up for one day only at the Power House in Pagosa, and they raise funds to donate to BBBS in exchange for the rare chance to bowl in Pagosa Springs.

Beyond Bowling for Kids’ Sake, there are a number of other ways to help make a difference in kids’ lives (and kids making a difference in their Big’s lives, too). Call Stacia Kemp at 264-5077, or e-mail her at to learn more about this century-old tradition of adults making a difference in children’s lives.

Big Brother Mike Short and Robert

SUN photos/Terri House
Big Brother Mike Short and his Little Brother Robert canoeing at Lake Capote. This match is enthusiastic about the adventures they share through the Big Brothers Big Sisters program.