By: Casey Blake
ASHEVILLE – Doug Brock didn’t want to be the only near-60-year-old going down Sliding Rock all by himself, so he found an excuse to go without looking so silly.
Rather, Big Brothers Big Sisters of WNC found him an excuse — a 12 year-old boy who would become more a playmate than a volunteer commitment over the next two years.
“My wife teases me when we’re going to hang out, ‘Are you going to play with Marek?’” Brock said. “It just doesn’t feel like a thing I’m supposed to do. It’s something I look forward to — like a fun thing I wouldn’t otherwise get to do.”
Big Brothers Big Sisters of WNC, the local branch of the national organization that matches mentors with kids who could use a role model, needs more men like Brock to take on Littles.
The organization hopes to recruit 100 volunteers this fall, said Jamye Davis, assistant director of Big Brothers Big Sisters.
There are more than 80 young people in Buncombe County alone who are waiting for a mentor. Most of those are boys, she said, who are now waiting six or seven months on average to be matched.
“A lot of our kids just haven’t had some of the basic opportunities many people don’t even think about,” Davis said, “Some may have never seen a tomato plant, or they’ve never been on the parkway or helped cook dinner. Some of those most simple things can be really meaningful.”
The volunteer recruitment drive helps the local Big Brothers Big Sisters program match youth from the growing waiting list with a mentor. It also helps to match students in elementary schools and after-school sites with a role model.
Nate Raynor, a Big in Asheville, started out as a teacher, but after about four years on the job, “I could tell it wasn’t the right fit for me. “But without it, something was definitely missing. I might not have been the best fit for teaching at a school, but I couldn’t deal with not making a difference for kids. I didn’t want to lose that just because I changed careers.”
Edgar, who just started high school, has been his “Little Bro” for a year and a half. Last year, Edgar was an usher at Nate’s wedding.
“I feel like mentoring can be beneficial for anyone, but kids in single-parent households can certainly use an extra dose, so to speak,” he said.
“Plus, I feel like for most of human history, we’ve lived in big, extended families… until now. I think there’s something natural about parents and kids having some extra ‘family’ support from aunts, uncles, and big brothers and sisters.”
The training is less time consuming than you might think on the front end — just a couple of hours — and although they provide training and activity suggestions over time, the time commitment for even the mentoring program can be as little as twice a month.
Mentors must be over the age of 18, and pass a series of background tests and interviews, and commit to at least one year with their Little.
BBBS is also looking for volunteers age 16 and older to mentor one hour a week at an after-school site, and volunteers older than 18 to be mentors for one hour a week in an elementary school.
The school-based program is especially well-suited to seniors, Davis said. Activities in the school and after-school programs include homework assistance, reading help, and fun activities that build the youth’s social skills and confidence. In the BBBS community-based program, activities occur after-school or on weekends and depend totally on the Big and Little and what they like to do.
Brock said he and Marek have done some more adventurous activities like hitting sliding rock, but sometimes their play dates are just running errands or digging in the creek for crawdads.
The matches can also attend BBBS-sponsored events together, like rafting and horseback riding.
“Every child needs someone who believes in them,” said Patsy Prickett, a first-grade teacher at Sand Hill Venable Elementary and member of the BBBS Advisory Council. “It doesn’t have to be a parent or family member. It just needs to be someone who will believe in them and support them. Many children could break out of the cycle of poverty with some guidance and support. So many children just need a role model to show them how to be successful in life.”
Big Brothers Big Sisters of WNC plans back-to-school mentor recruitment drives at various locations in Buncombe County. Stop by one of the following locations to learn more about how to volunteer or become a mentor:
• North Asheville Library, 1030 Merrimon Ave.: Noon-1 p.m. Sept. 15.
• Harvest House, 205 Kenilworth Road: 10 a.m.-2 p.m. Sept. 16
• Verde Vista Apartment, 4110 Verde Vista Circle: 6:30-7 p.m. Sept. 18.
• Asheville Pizza Company, 77 Coxe Ave: 5-7 p.m. Sept. 23.
Anyone who cannot attend can call 253-1470 or visit www.bbbswnc.org to get involved.