Sitnews - Stories in the News - Ketchikan, Alaska


Up On My Soapbox

Big Brothers Big Sisters
by Mike Harpold


November 06, 2002
Wednesday - 11:40 pm

My father did not learn to drive until he was past fifty, and probably because of his age never mastered the coordination required to operate a clutch very well. So when it came time for me to learn to drive, he asked a family friend to teach me. Keith was a bachelor, a World War II vet who with his brothers, owned the local Buick dealership. Through the hours we spent driving through the southwestern Wisconsin countryside we became friends. Besides teaching me how to drive, he taught me how to water-ski and how to ride a horse.

He took me pheasant hunting; things my hardworking parents never had the time or the capacity to do. Most of all he taught me a deep love for the beauty and the lore of the country we were raised in, dark-soiled fields and pastures divided by fast running creeks and steep hills topped with maple and oak.

On my first leave home from the Army, he took me to a local supper club and bought me my first cocktail, a Manhattan, and my first steak, a bacon wrapped filet mignon. Too shy to ask a girl out on a date, our family car was a rattlely old '49 Kaiser, he lent me his car, a new 1956 eggshell blue Buick convertible. It did the trick.

I have been thinking a lot about Keith lately because I have just volunteered to become a Big Brother. I will be spending about one hour a week with a seventh or eighth grade boy after school at Schoenbar Middle School as part of the Big Brother Big Sister school program. While the experience won't be as free wheeling or far ranging as my time with Keith, hopefully it can be significant.

Other volunteers, local Program Director Gretchen Klein hopes to recruit at least thirty, will spend two or three hours each week with a boy or girl aged six through seventeen. Activities in the Community Program will be much more free ranging than in the relatively structured School Program. Fishing and hunting trips are possible. Attendance at athletic events, going to the movies, working together on hobbies or activities. The goal is to provide an otherwise at risk child with a caring adult mentor who can offer trust, relationship building skills and encouragement. Every kid needs to be reassured that the future holds promise for him.

Who are these kids? There are plenty of them in Ketchikan and twenty-two have already asked for a Big Brother or Big Sister. They may have lost a parent as a result of divorce, abandonment, death or imprisonment. They may live with parents who do not have steady, full-time employment or who live in poverty. They may have a parent who is mentally or physically disabled or has a substance abuse problem. They may just have trouble relating to peers or their teachers, or may have difficulties in their home environment.

Ketchikan has an astonishing array of youth activities ranging from athletic leagues to ballet. Like other parents, my wife and I have devoted hundreds of hours driving our daughters to practices and attending their games and meets. But have you ever wondered who does the driving and cheers from the sidelines for the kid whose parents don't care to come or don't have the time to? Who makes sure the raffle tickets get sold? Who pays for the team photos, shin guards and cleats if money is a problem?

The truth is that many of the seemingly small things that we do for our own kids become barriers for kids whose parents can't or won't help them. This is where a Big Brother or a Big Sister can help, giving kids a hand in getting past these obstacles. Some kids just need a friend. You can help. Call Gretchen at 247-8300 or visit the Big Brother Big Sister office upstairs in the mall to volunteer.

My friend Keith turned eighty in August. He lives in a nursing home now and uses a walker to get around. I don't get back to Wisconsin often, only every two or three years, but when I do I take him on long drives along the Wisconsin River valley and past Frank Lloyd Wright's home, Taliesen. And we talk. He is still my Big Brother.



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