Rappahannock Big Brothers Big Sisters (RBBBS) matches — called Bigs and Littles — meet once a week, for at least an hour or two. For some considering the volunteer opportunity, this can sound daunting. Big Brother Mark Houghton admits it was a little awkward at first. But, as with all things, you proceed one step — or one hour — at a time.
"The first step was the establishment of trust; that I'd be there on a regular basis," Houghton said. "Another key was listening and not being judgmental. We were lucky in that the folks at RBBBS did a good job of matching us up, and my Little Brother Nate is a natural at making friends."
From Pokémon to Girls
As years have passed and Nate has matured from boy to teen, their Big-Little relationship and experience have evolved, too.
"The conversations (Pokémon to girls) and activities (Kings Dominion to volunteering at the Food Bank) have moved from those of interest to a 10-year-old to those shaping a young man into an adult," Houghton said. "I can be more open with him about some of his behaviors which are not serving him well, and he is receptive to those conversations and he is more open with me about the trials and tribulations of becoming an adult."
Eating Out and Splitting Firewood
Houghton and Nate have been matched for almost seven years. Although they live in different locales — Houghton in Spotsylvania and Nate in Fredericksburg — each week they manage to find a way to get together for some great one-on-one time.
"We chat about options, and there are some things I know he loves doing — the latest movies featuring super heroes; eating at Baba Ganoush; splitting firewood — so we engage in them on a regular basis," Houghton said. "But I also sprinkle in activities that I think will serve him as he grows older, such as volunteering (Food Bank, river clean-up, painting an elderly woman's house) and new experiences a father would teach a son (trimming hedges, cutting lawns, planting a garden)."
"We love hearing about their ability to find fun in what might be considered the most mundane of tasks," said RBBBS executive director Michelle Hedrich.
Looking Forward to Conversations
Houghton ensures their activities provide plenty of time for conversation.
"Mark has a way of really listening to Nate, and offering non-judgmental insight when needed," Hedrich said. "Nate looks forward to their conversations. Mark has said he sometimes feels like he's having a conversation with a college-age man, not a teenager – they get that deep exploring various topics."
Meeting a Need
"I thought volunteering as a Big Brother would be a good fit for me in terms of giving back to my community," Houghton said. He encourages others to consider the opportunity.
"First, there is a lot of need. There are lots of kids who could use some mentoring. Second, it doesn't take a lot of time, just a few hours a week, depending on the activities. Third, never underestimate the impact one person can have on another."
"We think Mark and Nate are a perfect example of how to build a friendship, one hour at a time, one week at a time, throughout the years," Hedrich said.
If you would like to learn more about volunteering to be a mentor, please visit the Rappahannock Big Brothers Big Sisters website at www.rbbbs.org, or call 540-371-7444.