In the case of the Low family and the three young charges they‘re mentoring as part of Northwest Michigan‘s Big Brothers and Big Sisters program, these are the key ingredients in the recipe for a family within a family.
The Lows are something quite unique, as well as a remarkable testament to the effectiveness of the program, which matches up disadvantaged youth with a man or woman who makes a commitment to spend time with them.
Patriarch Peter, V.P. of Operations for Salomon Smith Barney in Traverse City, was the first to come on board, deciding to become a Big Brother in August 2000 and getting matched up with Dominick.
Peter‘s son Andy, a financial advisor with Merrill Lynch who is married to a school teacher in Petoskey, independently but simultaneously also became a Big Brother one month later, to Jesse, something that greatly surprised and delighted the two men when they made the discovery shortly thereafter.
Peter‘s wife Carol, an employee at Corbin Design in downtown Traverse City, officially became a Big Sister early this winter after having been introduced to and spending some time with Cassey, Dominick‘s real-life sister.
Erin Edwards, Chief Executive Officer of Big Brothers and Big Sisters of Northwestern Michigan, which serves nearly 500 children in a nine-county area that stretches from Wexford to Emmett, says that was has happened to this now-extended family “is more extraordinary than it is normal.“
“The Low family has proven to be an incredibly given and dedicated group who have made a tremendous difference in the lives of three wonderful young people,“ said Edwards. “Like everyone, they are very busy people, but they‘ve included these kids in so many facets of their lives, and it‘s pretty significant that they‘ve been involved about three times longer than the average volunteer. That shows it‘s come to mean as much to them as it has to the kids.“
Both Andy and Peter echo that sentiment.
“You might start out with the idea that this is a way to help the world one kid at a time, but somewhere along the way, I knew that spending time with Jesse was something I was really looking forward to,“ shared Andy. “I‘ve come to count on that weekly visit.“ Adds Peter, “It‘s a pretty long list when I start adding up all the ways Dominick and Cassey give to me and Carol. They count on us, but we‘re just as blessed to have them in our lives. I believe the impact on both is quite immeasurable.“
Andy initially settled on being a Big Brother after a flyer arrived at his business. He had known about the program for some time and believed in its mission, and since he and his wife don‘t have children at the current time, he made the commitment. He says that in the beginning, it took a little work to forge a relationship with Jesse, who is now 10, and that their early meetings usually involved their having lunch at the school cafeteria or working on homework together.
The budding friendship didn‘t go unnoticed by Jesse‘s peers, especially when they saw Andy, who is 6‘ 7‘‘ tall and almost always wears a business suit, strolling down the hall with Jesse, who came about to his knees.
As time went on, the two became a more familiar sight throughout the Petoskey community, and they now spend time working on a wide variety of projects, from building a birdhouse to playing basketball, or going out to dinner if Jesse has earned a reward for doing something special, such as getting good grades. Jesse has also become comfortable spending time in the Low home, and Andy says it always makes him smile to see the young boy bound through his front door, raid the refrigerator, and then settle in, looking forward to what the two are going to do next.
Peter, too, had been considering becoming a Big Brother for some time, primarily because his children had grown and graduated from college, and he missed “having some youth racing around the house.“ He says that he was quite taken with Dominick from the onset, and describes him as an “exceptional and amazing young man.“ Dominick, now 11, is quite close to his sister Cassey, 9, and on occasion, they would bring her along to join in on the fun, like swimming at the Park Place or coming over to the house for make-your-own-pizza night.
As Carol got to know Cassey, it just seemed like a natural fit for her to become a Big Sister. While the guys and gals spend a fair amount of time off on their own, the foursome‘s getting together has become something to which everyone looks forward. Peter and Dominick might tackle building a model while Carol and Cassey do a craft, and then all challenge each other in a game. Whatever the activity, Peter says that the siblings have very much come to count on their time with their Big Brother and Sister, and that they‘ve received unexpected dividends in return.
“Carol and I are doing a lot of stuff we might not have, like going biking and kayaking, and it‘s because of what these two wonderful youngsters have brought into our lives,“ he explained. “They‘ve bring a sense of youth and vitality into our home, and absolutely have taught us as much as we ever thought we‘d teach them. This is a second-time-around for helping raise kids, and there really aren‘t words to describe how amazing it‘s been. I‘m glad I took the time to do it.“
TAKE THE PLUNGE
Andy says that if he has any advice for someone considering Big Brothers and Big Sisters, it‘s to just take the plunge and trust that no matter how busy you believe you are, the rewards far outweigh the small expenditure of time it takes to make a significant difference in the life of a child.
“Everyone‘s time is limited, but it‘s the simple things that make the bonds strong. Once you see the progress you‘re making in a kid knowing they can count on you or opening up to you, there‘s a sense of satisfaction that is so much greater than you ever could imagine,“ he concluded. “Just being there for them and being able to mentor them is a benefit all on its own.“
For information on becoming a Big Brother or Big Sister, call 1-800-968-2447, or visit the website at www.bbbsnwmi.org.