Across the nation, mentoring is in the spotlight this month. The importance of mentors, need for more and how to be involved is what National Mentoring Month is all about. Local activities include:
• Saturday: Mentoring Month Fundraiser, Homer High School commons, 5-7 p.m. This is a family-friendly event with food, entertainment, auction and raffle. The first 30 tickets sold receive a free ticket to Homer Council of the Arts “Stepping Out” talent show following the fundraiser. Tickets are $10 per person, $20 for a family of four, free for kids under 5, and available at the Homer Bookstore.
• Jan. 30: BBBS Movie Night: Despicable Me 2, showing at the Homer Theatre, 5:30 p.m. Admission is free, donations to BBBS will be accepted. Some winners of the BBBS writing contest will read their entries before the start of the film.
Throughout the year in Homer, the impact of mentoring can be seen in relationships developed through the Big Brothers Big Sisters program. One of those is the pairing of Big Brother John Shank, a Homer High School junior, with Little Brother Keegan Strong, 9.
Last year, Shank was a foreign exchange student, studying in Istanbul. After returning, he decided being a Big would be “a good opportunity to impact somebody’s life,” said Shank.
Recently, through the efforts of Jenny Martin, BBBS community director in Homer, Shank and Keegan were matched. The two share an interest in sports, with Shank a football player and Keegan playing hockey for the Homer Glacier Kings. With the relationship between the two still new, they meet at Keegan’s school once a week. After three months, they’ll be able to do activities away from school.
“It’s made me think a lot about how I’m viewed by other people and wanting to make sure I’m setting a good example so he’ll say, “Oh, that’s my big brother,” said Shank.
Having a big brother is “fun,” said Keegan. “We usually go outside and play soccer or football. He can make a long throw and I pretty much always catch it.”
Keegan’s father, Kevin, said having a Big is “definitely a benefit” for Keegan. “I think it’s a great program.”
Ginger Moore, Keegan’s mother, agreed.
“He likes John very much and looks forward to being with his Big Brother,” she said.
Susie Malone, a single parent, and her 8-year-old son Casper also are involved in the BBBS program. Susie is the Big of a 9-year-old Little Sister; Casper as the Little Brother of a couple’s match with Bigs Lindsay Wolter and Jedd Fonkert.
For Casper, having both a Big Brother and Big Sister is a winning combination, according to his mother.
“It’s a great set-up,” said Malone. “(Fonkert) is a crazy ‘toy’ guy. He has a boat, a snowmachine, a four-wheeler, likes darts, horseshoes and ping-pong. He and Casper went out and got halibut this summer for us, which Casper loved. We ate it all summer.”
The time Casper has spent with Wolter includes other activities, such as snowboarding, exploring Wynn Nature Center, seeing movies at the Alaska Islands and Ocean Visitor Center, hiking.
“Jedd and I do different thing, so our Little gets to hang out with either just me or Jedd or both of us,” said Wolter. “Sometimes we try things outside his comfort zone, like snowboarding. If he likes it, fine; if not, we do something else.”
For Wolter and Fonkert, being Bigs is a way “of seeing the world through a younger person’s eyes, reliving those experiences,” said Wolter, who has heard others say they would be a Big, but don’t have the time.
“I don’t feel that way at all,” she said of the two to five hours they spend with Casper every couple of weeks. “There are ways to make it fit into a schedule so it’s not some time-consuming thing you’re involved in.”
Being a Big is something Wolter highly recommends.
“Talk to Martin and learn more about the program. Make it a New Year’s resolution to mentor a young kid,” said Wolter. “It will make a difference and you’ll get more out of it than you put into it.”
Currently BBBS has 48 matches in Homer, with 12 boys and girls, ages 7-14, on the waiting list. Martin has only to look at her wall to know the program’s importance.
“I take a picture when they get matched and put it on my wall to remind me of why I’m here. I look at those kids and they’re just so happy,” said Martin.
BBBS isn’t the only mentoring program in Homer, said Martin, naming the Pratt Museum and the Kachemak Nordic Ski Club as examples.
“It’s wonderful that our nation and state and local programs recognize that mentors are very vital to communities and the country. We should take a month each year to remember them and say ‘thank you,’” she said.
For more information on Big Brothers Big Sisters in Homer, contact Martin by calling 235-8291 or emailing Jenny.Martin@bbbsak.org.
McKibben Jackinsky can be reached at mckibben.