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Friends forever

Aaron Vehling

Senior Michael Brahmer has found a release that brings back memories from his adolescent years.

Brahmer has been involved with the Eau Claire Big Brothers Big Sisters Agency since last spring.

“(The program) brings back the joy you miss out on while you’re too busy growing up,” he said.

Being a Big Brother also counts toward his service-learning hours at the university. Brahmer heard about the program through one of its annual fund-raisers, Bowl-for-Kids, which was held in his hometown of Rib Lake. He then applied for the program.

“I’ve always wanted to do it,” he said.

Those interested can apply online, in person or via e-mail. To apply, Brahmer filled out an interview-type form, took a personality test and was given choices of which child he would like to be a Big Brother for.

The organization tries to make a difference in children’s lives, said Jan Proctor, program director for Big Brothers Big Sisters, 1300 First Ave.

Funding for the program comes from federal and state grants as well as the United Way, she said.

Being a Big Brother or Sister is all about the kids and the difference it makes in their lives, no matter how small or significant, Proctor said.

“The kids join because they want to hang out with an adult as a friend – having friendship being their only expectation of the volunteer,” Proctor said.


“The Big Brothers Big Sisters organization looks for someone who wants to make a difference in the world – someone who is a positive influence.”
-Jan Proctor
Program director

Big Brothers Big Sisters does all it can to recruit volunteers, Proctor said, from TV and radio commercials to flyers and brochures. The best way the group gets recruits is still by word of mouth, she said.

“The Big Brothers Big Sisters organization looks for someone who wants to make a difference in the world – someone who is a positive influence,” Proctor said, adding the most important thing is having extra time.

Brahmer began his volunteering for Big Brothers Big Sisters as a school-based mentor. Then he made a transition last March to be a community-based mentor.

Being a community-based mentor helped Brahmer and his “little brother or sister” become better friends with the freedom to do fun things within the Eau Claire area, he said.

People who have worked with children before may have a little more experience than others, but training is available.

Training for the program is an individual thing, Proctor said, because some people have a lot of experience compared to others.

Aside from having individual training to help create a well-rounded volunteer, the organization also has group sessions in which a guest speaker talks to volunteers, Proctor said.

Then it’s time for who the big brothers and sisters think they can work with.

After a person finishes his or her training, both the “big” and “little” members get to choose each other based on what they like to do and whom they like to associate with, Proctor said.

The children often get disappointed with the volunteers when they either do not show up or arrive late, she said.

“That is not something that we are looking to do,” she said, adding that background checks are done on all appplicants.

There are specific criteria for people who won’t be accepted after the background check.

“No” candidates are those who have been convicted of a physical/sexual crime or have too harsh of a criminal record, Proctor said.

Those who make it through the application process and pass the background check become volunteers. The average volunteer’s age is about 25- to 26-years-old; however, ages range from 16 to 70, Proctor said.

Volunteers tell Proctor they think they get the most from volunteering there compared to the kids they work with.

But the volunteers are not the only ones who get significant experiences out of the program.

It is not uncommon for the “littles” to call back years later to give their thanks to their big brothers or sisters, Proctor said. That person usually has helped them in more ways than they will ever know, she said.

Brahmer’s biggest concern when joining was the type of connection he would have with his “little,” he said.

He came from a big family that helped him become a better “big” for his “little,” he said.

The mentors still face hardships despite their qualifications and past experiences.

The biggest challenge is connecting and keeping an open line of communication when you don’t see the child daily, Brahmer said.

Since Brahmer started volunteering, the application process has been simplified and the program is marketing more, he said. Brahmer receives e-mails regarding fund-raisers and activities that are coming up, which he said helps him to stay more organized with his “little.”

Making a difference in a child’s life by being yourself and being a kid again is something Brahmer has learned from volunteering.

His experience of being a Big Brother, he said, has taught him responsibility and provided him with confidence in anything he will do in life.

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