By Bob Jackson
Volunteers said they get back as much as they give by helping young people.
BOARDMAN — John Vitto said he was just looking for a way to volunteer and be active in the community when he found his way to Big Brothers/Big Sisters of the Mahoning Valley.
The Canfield man e-mailed the agency and was matched up with a young man who needed the tutelage of an adult male. That was nearly four years ago.
Today, Vitto is the Big Brother of the Year for the Mahoning Valley chapter, and it’s a relationship he intends to maintain.
“When you volunteer, you think you’re giving of yourself — and you are,” he said. “But you are also learning from that young person. The reward that you get from making a positive impact on kids is great, but it’s the giving and the getting that makes it such a good experience.”
Vitto was just one of some 250 people who attended the Big Brothers/Big Sisters of the Mahoning Valley’s annual bowl-a-thon Saturday at Camelot Lanes in Boardman. Executive Director Brian Higgins said it’s the agency’s biggest fundraiser of the year.
The agency also runs a golf outing every August.
Higgins said this was the 26th year for the bowl-a-thon, and the agency hoped to raise $15,000.
“We’re a little nervous about that goal, to be honest,” he said, explaining that the weakened economy made it difficult for people to commit money to the event as sponsors. He said last year’s event raised about $10,000, and other past events have brought in as much as $18,000.
“We know it’s a struggle for people right now, and our corporate sponsorship was down this year, but we’ll do the best we can,” he said. All money raised stays in the area to be used by the local agency, he noted.
Big Brothers/Big Sisters is a mentoring organization in which people between age 7 and 15 who need adult guidance and mentoring are matched with a volunteer big brother or sister for friendship. It’s not surrogate parenting, just someone who can serve as a positive adult role model, Higgins said.
He said there are currently 200 kids in the program who are matched with adult volunteers as Big Brothers or Big Sisters.
Among them are brothers Casshan and Justin Wallace of Warren, who were bowling Saturday with their “big brother,” 59-year-old Al Davis of Youngstown.
“He’s a really nice guy, and it’s fun doing things with him,” said Justin, 10.
Neither he nor Casshan, 13, hesitated at all when asked what was the favorite thing they’ve done in their 15 months together.
“Cedar Point!” they said.
They also got a kick out of going to Davis’ house at Christmas time and making cutout cookies, something they’d never done before.
Davis, who works in Akron as a nurse at St. Thomas Hospital, said he enjoys the interaction he shares with the boys, whose father, he said, is absent from their home.
“I can teach them things they should be doing as young men,” he said. “Things like how to dress, personal hygiene, how to manage stress, how to keep their grades up in school.”
Davis and the Wallace boys do things such as going to movies, bowling, jogging and going to the library.
“We do a lot of stuff together,” he said. “Lots of bonding things. I’m sure I’ll be with them for a long time.”
Casshan, an eighth-grader at Warren Western Reserve, and Justin, who’s in fourth grade at Summit Academy, agreed.
“I like hanging out with him,” Casshon said.