By: Stephen Kindland
The Big Brothers Big Sisters organization has long provided guidance to boys without a father at home.
But finding enough men who can spend a few hours each month mentoring a boy 6 to 14 years old has been difficult for the Henderson County chapter. As the group held its 28th annual Bowl For Kids’ Sake fundraiser at Tar Heel Lanes, it also sought to raise awareness of the need for more adult male volunteers.
The event, which drew enough teams to fill 30 of 32 alleys during the first of two shifts Saturday, raises enough money to pay an average of 22 percent of the agency’s $85,000 a year operating costs, according to Steve Kirkland, the local chapter’s outreach coordinator.
Kirkland, a married father of two sons, has had eight Little Brothers — or “Littles,” as he calls them — during his 40-year career in the nonprofit sector. Kirkland has been with BBBS for 12 years and, like leaders at other local chapters across the country, he’s been struggling to meet a growing demand for male mentors.
“Big Brothers are few and far between,” he said. “If I hold 25 interviews for Big Brothers or Sisters, 22 of them are women.”
Recruiting and maintaining men 18 years of age and older has always been difficult, but for the past several years, Kirkland also has seen more boys seeking an adult male role model in their lives.
And that, he says, compounds the problem.
“It’s a combination of that and men not wanting to make a time commitment,” Kirkland said. “Time is our most precious resource, and that’s what we’re asking men to donate.”
To help address the problem, BBBS headquarters officials have reduced the number of hours they ask Big Brothers and Big Sisters, or “Bigs,” to spend with a Little each month. Instead of the previous three to five hours a weekend, BBBS is requesting mentors commit to two to four hours twice a month, Kirkland said.
“All we ask for is a one-year commitment,” he said. “Otherwise, you’re going to disappoint a (vulnerable) child. No doubt about that.
“But thank goodness for retirees,” Kirkland added. “Right now, the majority of our mentors are retired. It’s a good opportunity for them.”
Among them is David Combs, a longtime mentor who was named the local chapter’s 2016 Big Brother of the Year.
Combs, a former U.S. Marine captain and investment adviser, has been a Big to six youths. He has been a mentor to his current Little — a high school freshman — for the past six years.
“I’m going to be with him the rest of my life,” Combs said. “I’m going to be his safety net.”
Combs said he believes that despite some challenges, his mentee has a chance to be successful in life.
“He’s the smartest kid I’ve ever met,” he said.
Last year, 75 mentors served 101 boys and girls through the Henderson County chapter. That includes 46 school-based matches, in which Big Brothers and Big Sisters meet once a week for an hour at a child’s school, usually to help them academically for 30 minutes before interacting with them socially.
Barrie Christman, a retired bank president who recently became a Big Sister to a teen, said she hopes other people will discover the joys of mentoring.
She said her Little Sister was thrilled when Christman took her to the Nutcracker ballet at the Flat Rock Playhouse.
“It was something she had never seen before,” Christman said. “And for me, well, I had more fun than I ever thought possible.
“People ask me why I do this, and I don’t understand that,” she added. “I do it because it works both ways. I told (my Little Sister) that I want to be at her wedding.”
Combs echoed her sentiments.
“I don’t think a lot of people really understand what it means to a kid for you to be in his life,” he said. “A lot of people say, ‘Hey, I don’t have time for that’ — but I don’t buy it.
“People have become so self-absorbed these days they don’t want to step out of their own little worlds,” Combs said. “All I know is that when I walk away (after spending time with a Little Brother), I feel like I’ve made a difference in a kid’s life — and that’s an honor.”