MORRIS – Grundy County Board Vice Chairman David Welter couldn’t communicate with his father much while growing up in Wisconsin. It left a big void in his life.
But that hole was filled when he was matched with a mentor from the Big Brothers Big Sisters organization. Big Brothers Big Sisters is a United Way funded organization.
“My big brother helped me work things out when I was a kid, so I wanted to give back,” Welter said.
Welter decided to become a “Big” himself. He signed up for the Lunch Buddies program with the Big Brothers Big Sisters of Will and Grundy Counties organization nearly three years ago and hasn’t regretted it.
The organization paired Welter with 10-year-old Noah of Morris, and the two developed a deep relationship as Welter visited Noah during his lunch break, playing tag, riding the slide and climbing the jungle gym during Noah’s recess.
That relationship has made such an impact on Noah and Welter that Welter is being recognized as the 2014 Big Brother of the Year.
While Welter reinforces lessons on how to be a good individual to Noah, Noah has changed Welter, too.
“He reminds me of myself when I was his age,” Welter said. “It’s not hard to take a day out of the week to have an impact on his life.”
Chief Executive Officer Lisa Morel Las said the organization needs more big brothers and sisters like Welter to fill the demand for children in the program.
“We’re struggling to get males to be Bigs for the boys,” Las said. “Some of these kids have been on the waiting list for a long time.”
Grundy County currently needs to match five boys and two girls with mentors. Will County needs to match 60 children, 57 of them boys. Kankakee needs five male Bigs while Cook County needs one.
The organization is an area franchise of the national outfit, Big Brothers Big Sisters, that aims to help at-risk children succeed by forming a bond between them and adult mentors early.
It welcomes children, or “Littles,” between the ages of six and 12 who could develop behavioral problems because of problems with parents or a unique home environment, to enroll and be matched with qualified, vetted adult mentors.
The match is intended to be a bond that strengthens as the child gets older, and provides the child with a unique role model.
“We get the kids at that point in the child’s life, that fork in the road where they go on a good or bad path,” Las said, explaining how a relationship with a mentor is intended to help bring balance to what can be a chaotic life for a child.
The mentors, or “Bigs,” are volunteers ages 18 and older who are vetted through tight, layered background checks, including federal, criminal, state and county reports with personal reference checks and one on one interviews.
“Some of the best Bigs are the busiest people that have activities, events and involve their littles in them,” Las said. “Activities can involve routine things as simple as raking leaves, fixing your car. It’s whatever you can engage them in.”
Las is hoping the organization’s “Purple Carpet” event Jan. 16 will help convince more people to donate to the program and become mentors.
The program will honor the Bigs of the program at its Joliet building, 417 Taylor St., with January being National Mentoring Month.
Welter will be introduced as the organization’s 2014 Big Brother of the Year. Kathleen Sliter, a Joliet resident who also participates in the Lunch Buddies program, also will be honored as the 2014 Big Sister of the Year.
“It’s a day we celebrate the bigs as the celebrities they are for their littles,” Las said.
To become a Big Brother or Big Sister:• Go to www.bbbswillgrundy.org• Click the Volunteer tab on the menu• Fill out the application
To enroll your child:• Go to www.bbbswillgrundy.org• Click the “Enroll a Child” tab on the menu• Enter your zip code and continue the application
To donate:• Go to www.bbbswillgrundy.org• Click the “Donate” tab on the menu• Click the “Donate” button and continue the application