Each summer, when our Site-Based matches are in the midst of a two-and-a-half-month hiatus in their relationship, Big Brothers Big Sisters of WNC hosts a group activity at the WNC Nature Center, where both Site-Based and Community-Based matches are invited to come and explore and appreciate the diversity of animals that live there including over 60 species native to Southern Appalachia.
When we entered, most of the 8 matches attending delved straight into the dark room that housed the Center’s copperheads, timber rattlesnakes, tarantulas and an assortment of other reptiles, amphibians and arachnids.
When they emerged from the reptile room, Little Brother CJ and his Big Brother Jacob made their way down hill to the foot of the Birds of Prey area. After spending some time with the Great Horned Owl and the Turkey Vulture, they lingered in awe of a red-tailed hawk as it tore at its breakfast while perched high on a branch staring intently back at them.
Meanwhile, three other matches were making their way along boardwalks leading through the humid eastern deciduous forest toward the two Cougars—Pisgah and Mitchell—who resided at the far edges of the 40 acre facility. As Little Sister Genazia pulled out her iPhone to take some photos of Mitchell as he paced about with a dangling tongue, Brian and his Little Brother Avery competed to see who could give the other one the most visible bunny ears for their photo op.
For Jerry and his Little Brother Rashad, the group excursion to the Nature Center is just one of the many activities they’ve participated in over the course of their two-and-a-half year relationship.
“Having a Little rejuvenates and older guy,” says Jerry as he shares a smirk with Rashad, “It feels good for me to be able to go around and do things with you—because I’ve had children before and I kind of miss them, and you’re one of the better ones!”
Jerry and Rashad have clearly grown close over the course of their match: they’re having just as much fun chatting and poking fun at one another and laughing as they are checking out the animals.
Rashad says that he wanted a Big Brother so that he could get out and experience new things, meet new people and apply himself in positive ways.
“I wanted to do more stuff, like to be active outside of my house and outside of the neighborhood—to travel around.”
Together, the two have attended basketball and baseball games, gone swimming, camped, bowled at BBBS’ Bowl For Kids Sake fundraiser, explains Rashad.
“And we’ve been to the library,” Jerry reminds him with a chuckle as Rashad smiles, remembering the book that he checked out that day.
“Jerry has brought me into reading more books and stuff, and so now I’m getting more…I can’t find the word for it.”
“Intellectual?” says Jerry.
“Thank you! Yes,” says Rashad. “That’s why my grades are AB honor roll now.”
After the otter exhibit, the Nature Center group activity is just about wrapping up, but Jerry and Rashad want to hang out a bit longer and decide shoot some hoops at an adjacent basketball court. On the way down Rashad shares more about why he wanted a Big Brother in the first place: It turns out that getting out of the house for him wasn’t just about staying active. He knew that he needed to find a positive role model for himself and to find healthy, productive ways to apply himself because the only other role models in his life—his elder siblings—were already getting into trouble and making choices that he knew would compromise his potential.
“My brother and sister…they’re just way too bad,” says Rashad, as a distant, intense look overtakes his expression. In the moment, his disposition shifts from the light-hearted laughter that he’s carried up until now, to something serious.
“Like—they’re older that me, but…they just do way too much…stuff,” he says.
Once on the court, they start shooting, and Jerry and Rashad settle back into their fun-loving selves, laughing and challenging each other to take more difficult shots. Though Rashad chuckles each time Jerry misses, Jerry reciprocates with positive feedback; on Rashad form, his effort, or just about himself as a person—the effect is obvious in Rashad’s effusive smile.
“It’s exciting, it’s thrilling—it’s something for me to do,” Jerry says to Rashad, describing his experience mentoring. “And you show me things that I haven’t noticed in a long time and I can see things anew through your eyes. And I feel worthwhile.”