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ST. MARYS — Trishina Thomas, a mother of three, remembers her big sister, Robbi Burke, in the Big Brothers Big Sisters program when she was a child.
“She had a different lifestyle than I had,” said Thomas, who now has three children in the program. “That gave me hope.”
Her daughter’s Big Sister, Kerri Masonbrink, was awarded the Big Sister of the Year award for Auglaize and Mercer counties at a dinner to honor volunteers. The Thomas family accepted the award for Masonbrink, who was unable to attend. They said Masonbrink takes the daughter, Keirstin Hermis, to work at the veterinary office with her, takes her shopping and to the zoo.
“She became a good part of our family,” Thomas said.
The Big Brother of the Year award went to Brian Hillsman, Couple of the Year went to Chuck and Lisa Howe, and the Volunteer of the Year went to Eldon Montague.
Local program founder Jim Geiger said he was glad to see the award go to Montague because when Geiger was trying to get a program going in 1988, Montague came in with a lawyer’s background, took the bull by the horns and did the paperwork that two years later got the program off the ground.
Geiger worked as a juvenile probation officer when he got the idea to open a local branch of the Big Brother Big Sister program.
“I asked (the juveniles), ‘Who do you talk with about the things you talk to me about,” Geiger said. “Most said they didn’t have an adult in their lives they could talk to.”
Montague said accepting the award, that he wasn’t accepting Volunteer of the Year for 2013, he was really accepting it in honor of the year 1990, the year the local program began and he and Geiger put so many hours into the organization, starting with only $1,000 and a donated space.
United Way Director Randy Fisher said the reason the program is worthy of sponsorship is that it is a prevention program that pays back the dollars put into it by helping at-risk children have positive role models. Even children with some guidance at home have troubles, he said, if they don’t have a third voice in their lives. Fisher said children may not listen to their parents, but hearing another adult say the same things sometimes gets through.
“It’s a simple fact that every dime we spend on prevention we don’t spend down the road,” Fisher said.
Geiger agreed that the most cost-effective way to improve society was not just programs to address problems, but programs to prevent them.
“It’s absolutely about people,” he said. “This is a much better way to go about it. It’s simple. It’s not easy, but it’s simple. The kid knows someone cares.”
Caring is what little brother Kameron Hullinger said he gets from volunteer Phil Burnett.
“It’s nice to have someone other than my family in my life that wants to help me,” Hullinger said.
Burnett said that after two years he’s seen little brother Kameron Hullinger improve behavior-wise, becoming more expressive and improving in confidence as they spend time at air shows, Air Force museums, church, dinner Sundays and cooking lessons.
Larry Honigford said while he’d always spent time with his 23 nieces or nephews, the primary attraction of having a little brother was showing him things that the brother might not experience otherwise, including simple things like fishing, flying kites and building model cars.
“I guess just the satisfaction of knowing he doesn’t have much opportunity at home,” Honigford said. “Exposing him to new adventures. I took him out to my house, and he couldn’t believe how dark it was out of town. I don’t think he’d ever been out of St. Marys before.”
Jeremy Sneed always wanted a brother.
“I didn’t know you couldn’t go into Walmart and get a brother,” Sneed said.
His little brother, TJ McElroy, has become the brother he never had, he said.
According to McElroy’s mom, Sneed is the man McElroy wants to be.
“We have the exact same hobbies, like video games and hanging out,” McElroy said. “He gets me to do things I want to do anyway.”