Going Big with a Little
Big Brothers Big Sisters of Central Indiana (Big Brothers Big Sisters) has been matching mentors with children for forty years now. Although Big Brothers was first established in the 60’s followed by Big Sisters in the 70’s, both organizations operated separately until combining forces in 2002. Currently, there are over 800 youth already established in mentoring relationships through this program. Big Brothers Big Sisters will create 400 more connections this year. This means this organization will match at least one child to a mentor each day of the year.
“I’ve always been inspired by the stories of parents and caregivers who contact Big Brothers Big Sisters,” says Darcey Palmer-Shultz, CEO of Big Brothers Big Sisters of Central Indiana. “It takes a lot of love and a lot of courage for parents to ask for help, and it’s an amazing demonstration of how much our parents believe in their kids that they contact Big Brothers Big Sisters to be a part of their family. We consider it an honor to take those calls.”
Many different family situations require the need for a mentor, such as a family that is dealing with some health issue or a single parent. Darcey reminds us, “Big Brothers Big Sisters is proven to have positive academic, socio-emotional and behavioral outcomes for youth who face adversity. We are a research backed, evidence-based program. Our standards are high, and our practices are exemplary. We take our work very seriously and are honored to work with so many amazing families, volunteers, and supporters…There are always more boys ready to be matched with mentors, so we especially need more male mentors and Big Couples.”
Offering Convenience & Flexibility
Ryan Quesenberry: Big Brother to Will
Ryan Quesenberry, of Fishers, has been a Big Brother to Will since June of 2011. Will, 12 years old, is home schooled and lives with both parents. “Will is very respectful and is a very nice kid,” says Quesenberry who works as a medical sales representative for Orthofix.
In his free time, Will enjoys playing hockey. On his 12th birthday, Ryan took Will to Dave & Buster’s Restaurant. They have also ventured downtown to watch a hockey game. In addition, they have gone ice-skating, played video games and went fishing. One of the most memorable experiences was the day they went to pet the dolphins at the Indianapolis Zoo. Since this exciting day, Will has been talking about going to college to become a veterinarian or an oceanographer. He also hopes to play professional hockey someday.
Quesenberry offers his inspirational message to anyone thinking about becoming a big brother. He says, “This is a very reputable program. If you want to give back and have a positive influence, it feels good to help out.” Also, he likes the flexibility. “It’s not like we have to meet at a certain time and day of the week. We can schedule our activities whenever it works out best for our individual schedules…this program allows you to provide a good aspect in a child’s life that he might not otherwise have.”
Mentoring as a Big Couple: Twice as Nice
Shirley and Rick Altstadt: Big Couple to Allen
Shirley and Rick Altstadt, of Carmel, are a ”Big Couple” to 16 year old Allen — meaning that together, they mentor him as a team. Actually, Shirley began mentoring Allen (solely) when he was in third grade as part of the school program. She would have lunch with him weekly. Eventually, this progressed into a “Big Couple relationship” (Shirley and Rick), just before Allen started sixth grade.
“Allen lives with both his parents and his mom used to be a little.” says Rick. “Her experience was so positive that she wanted to extend this opportunity to Allen. Shirley and Rick, whose two daughters are grown, have enjoyed their time with Allen. They have taken him to the Carmel Palladium, and to Chicago (as part of an organized trip and one of many, by Big Brothers Big Sisters.) They have also frequently enjoyed various sports-themed activities such as bowling and attending a Colts game. Allen, a freshman, plays football, basketball and runs track. Shirley and Rick attend most of his sporting events.
“It doesn’t matter what age you are as a mentor,” says Shirley. “Each generation gives a child a different perspective of life.” Let’s face it. Every child can benefit from more adults who believe in them, inspire them, and help them discover their possibilities.
Matching Personalities & Interests Incredibly Well
Matt Cohen: Big Brother to Nathan
Matt Cohen is a father of two and lives in Carmel. Before becoming a big brother to Nathan, a few months ago, he cleared it with his children who were open to sharing their dad, so he can help serve the community.
Nathan comes from a middle-class family with two parents who care about him greatly. They are so consumed with the two older siblings who have medical conditions that they guided Nathan to Big Brothers Big Sisters so that he could receive more personal attention and mentorship.
“Nathan has really wowed me with some of his quoted facts and concepts about science and technology,” says Cohen who shares many of the same interests. It’s no wonder that Nathan is in the gifted program at school. Some of their “brotherly” activities so far, have included going bowling, playing arcade games, getting frozen yogurt and assembling a Star Wars puzzle together.
Reflecting back on his personal life, Cohen reveals, “After losing my job in July, I had time to shift my focus from myself to realizing that others have more difficult situations than me. I began to see that it makes perfect sense to offer up my assistance to others in the community.” Cohen has since started a non-profit educational organization called Project Lead the Way, where they provide STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math) curriculum in middle/ high schools across the nation.
Cohen marvels at how well Big Brothers Big Sisters has done with connecting him and his little brother, Nathan. “They did such a tremendous job. They did as much research as possible with matching Nathan to my background, interests, job, and activities.”
Mentoring Opportunities Close to Home
Katie Pallone: Big Sister to York
Katie Pallone, of Carmel, has been a Big Sister to 11 year old York for two years now. “York is very creative,” says Pallone who works as a Financial Advisor at La Salle St. Securities and has served as a board member for Big Brothers Big Sisters for three years. “I have taken York to paint pottery, decorate cupcakes, and other places that bring out her creativity.” Pallone has even taught York how to swim. York sings in choir and plays the cello. Someday, she wants to move to California and become a singer.
“I try to instill tradition whenever I can within our activities” says Pallone who has decorated gingerbread houses and carved pumpkins with York. They have even helped out at the Fishers Food Pantry at United Methodist Church and then treated themselves to cupcakes afterwards. Pallone recalls one of her favorite family traditions when her mom would make her homemade cookies on the first day of school. Even in college, her mom would send her cookies to celebrate the new beginning of the school year. Likewise, Pallone has also taken York cookies on the first day of school to carry out this special custom.
Pallone shares her experience when she admits, “There is plenty of need for strong, enduring, mentoring relationships on every side of town. You can volunteer by becoming a big, helping at community events, sponsoring events, or even assisting with college funding. After becoming a big brother or big sister to make a difference in a child’s life, people soon realize how big of an impact that this child has made in their lives.”
Experiencing Indianapolis Through a Young Person’s Eyes
Bob Tollini: Big Brother to Ziah
Bob Tollini, of Geist, has served as a big brother to three boys over the last twenty-three years. He is now mentoring his fourth little brother, 11 year old Ziah, who loves History. Tollini can tell you everything you’d ever want to know about the sites to see right here in Indy. He has taken his little brothers to experience culture and so much more. Some places they have seen are The Children’s Museum of Indianapolis, the Indiana State Museum with IMAX theatre and Eugene and Marilyn Glick Indiana History Center. They have also visited the NCAA Hall of Champions and the Eiteljorg Museum of American Indians and Western Art. In addition, they have played basketball and baseball — both sports that Ziah loves to play. Plus, they’ve attended many games of different sports.
“I’ve been doing this for twenty-three years now and it is fun,” says Tollini who was awarded “The Unsung Heroes Award” in mid-December by the Indianapolis Rotary Club for his dedicated commitment to helping others in the community. He continues, “Being a mentor isn’t work. You enjoy it. You get to see much of what Indianapolis has to offer through a young person’s eyes. It reminds you of when you were a kid. You can see how different the kids are from you as they’re living in a different culture and environment.”
Changing Lives for the Better
Here is what some are saying about how Big Brothers Big Sisters has changed their lives for the better:
“My experience as a Big has been rewarding, fun and educational! I get to not only play a positive role in a child’s life, but have a lot of fun doing it. Everyone involved in the entire process, has been nothing but great. I can see myself being a part of this program for a long time!”(Ryan Quesenberry, Big Brother)
“Ryan has changed my life in lots of ways. He encourages healthier habits and I have become more outgoing since hanging out with him. I love just hanging out and playing video games with Ryan.” (Will, Little Brother)
“It has changed my life adding another dimension where I feel I am giving to the community, helping to shape a person and getting back a lot from him. I love being around this young person and I like how he shares information with us.” (Shirley Altstadt, Big Couple)
“Without the involvement of Allen, my association with young kids would be limited. I’m learning about what kids are doing today, their culture, and how he deals with everything.” (Rick Altstadt, Big Couple)
“Rick and Shirley have introduced me to new things. I didn’t even know I liked classical music before Shirley and Rick took me to the Palladium in Carmel. We have gone to different restaurants and tried new foods together. They offer me academic advice. I was struggling in Biology and with Shirley and Rick’s help, I was able to raise my grade by an entire letter! They are both very dependable and I know I can ask them anything or call on them if I need to.” (Allen, Little Brother)
“Becoming a Big Brother has been a personal life-enhancing episode. It has allowed me to begin sharing my life experiences with a bright young individual and forged a relationship I know will last for a very long time.” (Matt Cohen, Big Brother)
“We have not been together very long, but so far we have done lots of fun things such as bowling and putting together puzzles. I always come home from our outings very happy.” (Nathan, Little Brother)
“One quote that truly sums up my experience thus far with York and Big Brothers Big Sisters is from Ralph Waldo Emerson, ‘It is one of the most beautiful compensations of this life that no man can sincerely try to help another without helping himself.’” (Katie Pallone, Big Sister)
“Katie is someone I can talk to and call on if I need advice. We have made several pieces of pottery and we really enjoy baking cupcakes together. I struggle with math so she helps me out with my school work which has made a big difference.” (York, Little Sister)
“Being a mentor is not a one-way street. You don’t just give to the community but you get something out of it as well.” (Bob Tollini, Big Brother)
“Bob encourages me to behave and do well in school by teaching me manners and helping me with school work. We also enjoy going to Colts games, playing golf and doing other sporting activities. I really like having him as a Big Brother. He is a role model to me.” (Ziah, Little Brother)
“I didn’t have children of my own and was new to Indianapolis; I met eight sweet girls (Littles) during my 19 yrs. as a Big Sister. I felt I helped them gain confidence, see the need to study/finish school, and served as a trustworthy adult friend whom they knew cared for them unconditionally. I’m proud to know three of these young women today and they’ve done well. It’s been wonderful! (Jenien Beach, Big Sister)
If you would like to make a difference in the community and lend your mentorship to someone in need, consider becoming a Big Brother or Big Sister. This may be the perfect way to fill a void in your life. Perhaps you never had the opportunity to have children or you have always wanted to help guide a young child to realizing his/her full potential. Whether you mentor someone as a “Big Couple,” or you go solo, either way, you can help discover new meaning in someone’s life—including your own.
Go to www.bebigforkids.org to volunteer or to support Big Brothers Big Sisters. If you are unable to mentor, then you can give a gift that helps connect a mentor with a child.