Big Brothers, Big Sisters wanted

By Melanie Ruberti

August 23, 2014

Phillip Alexander grew up in a concrete neighborhood, inside the projects just outside Houston, Texas.

“There was always something, crime, going on,” he said. “I heard shootings all the time at night. There was always competition from neighborhood to neighborhood.”

Alexander had three brothers and a sister, whom he was close with, but he said it was his other big brother, from the nationally known program, who made a real difference in his life.

“When I was with him, it was about experiencing life. It was different,” Alexander explained. “We never ordered pizza a day in my life growing up. But my “Big” [big brother] and I did that and it was a big deal. He took me to his family’s place in Marshall, Texas. There were a bunch of kids there…we slept on pallets…there was horses. I had never seen that.”

Alexander never forgot his big brother, nor the life experiences he had with him. Alexander is now an Engineering Manager with Caterpillar Forest Products Inc. in LaGrange. He is also a retired Colonel with the Army Reserves, where he served for 29 years, and he’s a Big Brother in the LaGrange chapter of the Big Brothers, Big Sisters program, plus serves on their Board of Directors.

“You understand the value of having someone who is a positive role model in your life.” he said. “Sometimes it’s good to get a different perspective, like that trip to Marshall, Texas. That was a big deal to me, I hadn’t gotten out of the projects before that.”

While Alexander said he only had his big brother for one year, the experience, knowledge, and self confidence he gained stuck with him. He was introduced to his “little brother” in LaGrange back in 2008 and was a mentor to him until he aged out this year.

Now the Big Brothers Big Sisters of Chattahoochee Valley hopes more people, especially men, will step up to the plate like Alexander did and his mentor before that. Right now, the LaGrange chapter has 21 children on a list, waiting to be matched with a big brother or big sister.

“Our program is driven by volunteers,” said program director Marquitta Williams. “We wouldn’t be able to bring about positive changes to our young people without them.”

Williams said their volunteers spend four-to-eight hours a month, some times more, with their little brother or sister who typically range in age from six to 13 years of age. They do everything from going to the movies or to the park, to baking cookies and working on homework. One aspect of the program is in the schools, helping children read a book or use flash cards.

“You can see their self confidence improve and grades go up,” said Williams. “Students go from having C’s to A’s and B’s. They have a completely different outlook on life. They have the belief ‘I can do it.’”

Sadly, Williams said they have children who’ve been on the waiting list for a big brother or big sister for almost two years.

She said without a positive role model in their lives, some children may drop out of school, sell drugs, join a gang, or become a teenage parent.

“Mentoring is a crucial piece in putting a child on the right path of success,” said Williams. “It only takes a few hours to make a difference.”

“You expose your little [brother or sister] to other aspects of life,” explained Alexander. “It will help guide them down other avenues of life.”

Alexander said he still keeps in touch with his “little brother,”who is now a college student in Atlanta. He just hopes the cycle continues and more people help change children’s lives for the better.

“The one thing I knew made a difference was getting out of the environment I grew up in and having time that was focused just on me. It’s made a big difference,” he said.

In order to be a Big Brother or Big Sister, you must at least be 18 years old, be able to dedicate four to eight hours a month to the program, and live in the LaGrange for the next year. You will be subjected to an extensive background check which costs $10, other than that, there’s no cost.

For more information or if you’d like to join, call Big Brothers Big Sisters of the Chattahoochee Valley at 706-298-2434.