CREATED Oct. 24, 2012
How would you like to change a child's life for the better? Big Brothers Big Sisters of Northeastern Wisconsin is looking for mentors and as many volunteers discover, it's not just the "at risk" youth who benefit from the program.
Whitey Ellsworth and Adam Funk have been buddies for 23 years. They're a perfect match through Big Brothers Big Sisters.
"My parents were divorced and my father didn't live in the area, so I didn't see him that often or spend that much time with him, so there was that void," explained Funk.
But Ellsworth was also looking for companionship after his two daughters became adults and moved out of the house.
"Adam filled in the hollow when we were empty nesters," said Ellsworth.
The two took trips to EAA in Oshkosh, built model railroads together and went hunting. They clicked from the beginning.
"It seemed like an old shoe that you'd put on. We just hit it off right away. You know, it fit," said Funk.
Whitey added, "Every Saturday almost we were together, supposed to be a four hour commitment, I don't think we ever stopped at four."
But not everyone is so lucky. Big Brothers Big Sisters in Green Bay has nearly one hundred youth on a waiting list to be paired with a mentor. According to Executive Director Todd McPeek, a twelve month commitment can make a life long impact.
"If you look at the drinking, smoking, the fighting, the things that we would like our youth to avoid, our programs' metrics show that they do avoid those things."
According to the agency, 52% of matched youth compared to their peers will go on to pursue higher education. Now 33-years-old, Adam ended up as a graduate gemologist. He's pursuing his passion of designing jewelry. He attributes his success to the things he learned from Whitey.
"The work ethic and the drive. I think he definitely showed me how it works and what it takes to be successful in a business," said Funk.
He also credits his role model for teaching him how to be a good husband, father and friend. One day, Adam plans to pay it forward.
"There's such a great need out there for so many littles that don't have a parent or have a situation where they need that extra support in their life, and this is about as great of an avenue as there could possibly be for that."
Whitey also encourages people to get involved and volunteer to be a mentor.
"If you've got some time and especially if your own kids are up and away, why not?"
Right now, Big Brothers Big Sisters has a shortage of male mentors, but they're always looking for women as well. They have a variety of volunteer options to fit busy lifestyles including on-site programs where you meet at a child's school or other designated location. They also have couples mentoring, so spouses divide the time commitment to accommodate their schedules.