In our own Backyard

Story last updated at 5:42 PM on Wednesday, January 25, 2012

big brothers big sisters: kid activities for adults


Photo provided

Big Kathy Sarns-Irwin, right, kayaks with her Little, Sonja, on a trip last summer with True North Kayak Adventures.

Bored? Tired of doing the same old stuff? Want to return to the carefree joy of childhood? You can't go back, but there is a way to get the next best thing.

Become a Big Brother or Big Sister.

With January as National Mentor Month, Big Brothers Big Sisters has been recruiting adults to be mentors to children needing partners in the program. The other side of the story is not just that it helps children — called "Littles" — but Bigs as well.

"It's really energizing," said Rachel Lord, Big Sister to Willow, a Fireweed Academy first-grade student. "To see the world through a 7-year-old's eyes and their unfettered enthusiasm about activities that you started to see as ho-hum — all of a sudden, it's awesome."

Lord, outreach and monitoring coordinator for Cook Inletkeeper, has been Willow's Big since December 2010. She also was a Big for two years when she lived in Fairbanks. Bigs spend about an hour a week with Littles. They choose activities that suit Littles' interests. To give Bigs ideas, BBBS program specialist Jenny Martin sends out a weekly list of kid- and family-friendly activities that might be of interest. Businesses like the Homer Theatre offer discounts to Bigs and Littles, like buy one, get one free deals.

"Everybody in town is wonderful," Martin said of business support.

Kathy Sarns-Irwin, Big Sister to 12-year-old Sonja, took advantage of one such deal with True North Kayak Adventures where she paid for her trip and Sonja came along for free. An artist and owner of Free Spirit Wear, a clothing company that sells skiing and biking shirts and jackets with Sarns-Irwin's designs, Sarns-Irwin shares a lot of the same interests as Sonja, including art and sports. Sonja's mom realized she was athletic, and Martin matched her with Sarns-Irwin. Sarns-Irwin helped get Sonja started in cross-country skiing and got her set up on the Junior Nordic six-week ski program.

"That's a big thing. She's getting to be a good skier now," Sarns-Irwin said of Sonja.



community director

jenny martin,

program specialist

for more information:




Junior Nordic

Art classes

Discovery labs






Special buy-one-get-one-free deals at local restaurants and cafes

Special projects and events

"To see the world through a 7-year-old's eyes and their unfettered enthusiasm about activities that you started to see as ho-hum - all of a sudden, it's awesome."

- Rachel Lord,Big Sister

Lord also takes Willow to Junior Nordic. Both Sarns-Irwin and Lord coach and volunteer. They get their Littles to the ski clinics and help out with the program — sort of a two-for-one for other volunteer activities, too. When Bigs get Littles involved in programs like the Homer Council on the Arts youth art classes, Bigs often stick around and volunteer for the program.

Not every activity has to be high-energy exercise. Sometimes Sonja just likes to walk on the beach and collect sea shells, Sarns-Irwin said.

"Sometimes if we're tired and don't feel like big adventures, we go to Two Sisters," Sarns-Irwin said.

Being a mentor to a kid gives her an excuse to try out kid activities, Lord said.

"There are a lot of activities that are aimed for kids," she said. "There are things that would be super fun to do with a 7-year-old."


Photo provided

Big Rachel Lord, left, poses with her little, Willow, in costume after a performance of the Homer Nutcracker Ballet in December.

Last summer, Sarns-Irwin took Sonja to the HCOA Street Fair.

"That was a lot of fun. Actually, I had a lot of fun," Sarns-Irwin said, doing things like trying out hoops and getting their faces painted. "You end up being a little kid."

Lord even got that baptism-by-fire many Homer parents go through: she became a Nutcracker Ballet mom, taking Willow to rehearsals and shows. Willow's mom couldn't be at all the practices and Willow really wanted to be a mouse, so the two women worked out a schedule together.

Sometimes Lord said she might think she doesn't want to go out, but being with Willow changes that.

"I've never dropped Willow off and regretted the time we spent," she said. "I've always felt more energized with kind of a new excitement about the day."

"It makes you do things you normally don't do. Time slows down," Sarns-Irwin said.

"When I'm with her, I unplug everything else and have fun. We have that hour or two together."

Michael Armstrong can be reached at