Being a Big Brother/Big Sister helps youth get started in life

(Editor’s note: This is the second part of our series on Big Brothers-Big Sisters of Greater Flint. This week we look at becoming a Big and the Littles out there looking for someone to connect with.)

GENESEE COUNTY — Dr. Bobby Mukkamala of Flint said when his own twin sons were halfway through high school, he decided to become a Big Brother.

He said it was about having a connection, not necessarily being a parental figure to youth, but more about mentoring them.

“I’ve always supported Big Brother/ Big Sisters,” said Mukkamala. “But it’s easy to write a check or go to a fundraier. This was about helping in a different way.”

When his sons left for college, Mukkamala was matched with his Little, A.J., just three months later. A.J., he said, is 16 years old and fond of cars, just like his Big.

Mukkamala said he enjoys the being able to help A.J. navigate the stresses of his teenage years.

“I’m enjoying being able to do version 2.0 of parenthood,” he said. “This is a way for me to use that expertise, but not in a high stakes way. These kids are looking for role models. I can be a positive influence.”

Mukkamala said A.J. is very much into cars, which made them a perfect match because the doctor owns a collection of 62 cars.

“If its red, fast and shiny it’s cool in his book,” said Mukkamala. The two also have enjoyed going to Detroit Piston games and movies.

“We’re very much enjoying it.”

Lynne Warner says she’s more of a grandma in the Big Brothers Big Sisters organization, but she says you don’t have to be a young person to give your time to a Little Brother or Sister.

A little more than a year ago, Lynne Warner of Goodrich was a retired nurse looking for volunteer opportunities to keep busy. Her husband, Jerry, saw a Big Brothers Big Sisters advertisement on TV while watching the news one day, and Lynne called.

“I said, ‘Do you take senior citizens?’” she said. “They said they’d be thrilled to have someone come in who’s older. So now Emily has a grandma instead of a big sister. She probably looks at me as a grandmother.”

Lynne was paired last April with Emily Anderson, a 12-year-old from Grand Blanc who will be in the seventh grade this fall. The two make plans to get together every other week and have done things like playing racquetball and kayaking, going to concerts, the Renaissance Faire, Eastern Michigan State Fair, water parks and even toured a dairy farm where Emily got to milk a cow. Sometimes they just play in the yard with the Warners’ dog or go for rides on the Warners’ four-wheelers or the big tractor.

Lynne said her husband, a retired high school administrator, loves kids, and Emily has a little brother, Sebastian Brown, so the four of them started doing activities together. Jerry has become a Big Brother as well and was recently paired with Sebastian. That sense of family is something the children’s mother, Stephanie Anderson, wants for the kids.

“Their mother wanted them to have the opportunities that she never had, to be able to experience a stable home life” Lynne said. “She never had a normal mother-father home life, and I give her a lot of credit for wanting better for her kids than what she had growing up. She’s always very grateful for the things we’re able to provide. It’s very rewarding for us, too. Kids are the future, and if we can’t invest time and energy with kids, it won’t be a good future. Anything we can do to help is worth the time and energy.”

Lynne and Jerry have grown children who are out on their own. Lynne also volunteers at Genesys Hospital as a certified therapy dog handler, working the emergency room on Wednesday nights. She helps run the emergency clothing closet for women and children at Carriage Town Ministries and volunteers at Goodrich United Methodist Church.

She encourages other older people to get involved with Big Brothers Big Sisters. She said the social workers are very supportive and walk volunteers through the process, calling regularly to see if there are questions or concerns. She said they go out of their way to make sure the pairing is a good match that works out.

“One of the things I think people don’t realize is that you don’t have to be a young person,” Lynne said. “Young people are busy with work, family, school. It’s a really fun thing for seniors, and we have more time and experience raising kids. All the fun things we did with our kids, we can do with them. When you have kids to take with you, it keeps you young. We have a lot more to offer, and we shouldn’t hesitate to jump in and help youth get a start in life.”

(Jalene Jameson and Gary Gould contributed to this article.)