Ralph was a recent retiree and several years an empty-nester when he was matched to Little Brother Ari. “I was a much older Big Brother,” Ralph only partially jokes. “I could have been his grandfather.” He recalls applying to Newton-based Jewish Big Brothers Big Sisters and inquiring whether there was an age cutoff. He was pleased to learn there wasn’t. “They said, ‘Are you at least 21?’ I said yes. They said, ‘Let’s talk!’”
“It was actually really nice to have an older friend, somebody who’s been there. He dealt with relationship stuff and family stuff before I did. He was there to support me when I was doing well and there to catch me when I was falling,” says Ari, whose parents divorced when he was young. Ari’s biological brother struggled with complex medical needs. (His mom was regularly busy transporting his brother to doctor’s appointments or keeping vigil at his hospital bedside following surgery. By Ari’s own admission, he didn’t get much attention at home.) “I love my little brother, and I completely understand my mom’s obligation to take care of him—but the whole thing was tough. Through all of that,” says Ari, “Ralph was my rock.”
Ralph and Ari were matched formally for over 12 years in the mentoring program. Today, as Ari—now a college graduate—works to grow a successful photography business in another part of the country, in-person visits are a rare treat. Still, Ralph and Ari keep in contact via e-mail and the occasional phone call. After so many years, they still find things to talk about—grown-up to (cough) slightly more grown-up.
“One thing we’ve observed is that those matches involving empty-nester volunteers are often really meaningful and long-lasting. The Big Brothers and Sisters in those mentoring-friendships tend to be stable in their careers or their retirement, settled in their homes and their communities and, for many of them, the time they once spent coaching soccer games or supervising homework they can redirect. One of the ways they choose to do that is volunteering,” says Joni Kusminsky, Director of Community Engagement at JBBBS.
Kusminsky adds that there continues to be a particular need for Big Brothers of all ages to serve Little Brothers from over 90 towns in Eastern Massachusetts.
“There are a couple of concrete ways to assist in our efforts to engage Big Brothers and Big Sisters,” says Kusminsky. “You can apply to volunteer, of course. Or if you’re someone who’s unable to commit yourself but you have empty-nester parents or altruistic grandparents, give them a nudge. Let them know you heard we could use their support.”
For more information, or to apply, visit jbbbs.org.