Portage volunteers seeking Big Brothers and Big Sisters

August 6, 2018

After an absence of nearly a decade, volunteers are making a push to bring Big Brothers Big Sisters of America back to Columbia County.

“It’s not started yet, but we’re trying to get it started,” said Doug Fearing of Portage. “I used to be a big brother in Portage from about 2003 to 2007.”

After having two “littles,” each for about a year and a half before each moved away, Columbia County Big Brothers Big Sisters lost support from the organization’s Dane County branch, which had been critical to operations in Dane County.

“Some of the people from Big Brothers Big Sisters tried to keep it going by organizing a group called Best Friends, but it just couldn’t get any traction,” said Fearing.

Originally founded in 1904, the national organization of Big Brothers Big Sisters has supported a network of volunteer mentors serving kid between the ages of 6 and 13.

Fearing was contacted by Karyn Wetzel of Portage, who asked about his experience and interest in trying to get the program off the ground again, seeing a place for it in the county.

“It is the need to direct the children in Columbia County with mentors and bring things that are more positive into their lives,” said Wetzel. “I guess I always knew about it and then in Columbia County it just went by the wayside because there wasn’t any funding and I was at another meeting and I had heard that Doug Fearing wanted to bring it back. So I went home and messaged him and it has just taken off from there.”

Although they are confident that there is a place and a need for the organization in Columbia County, to have a chartered group in the county, they are aiming for support from Dane County Big Brothers Big Sisters, with representatives scheduled to be at an Aug. 16 public meeting at the Portage Public Library where Fearing and Wetzel hope to see strong support from prospective volunteers.

“I’m just so excited about this and it is becoming very real and I am hoping that the room down at the library, which holds 75 people, becomes standing-room only,” said Wetzel. “Volunteers need to be adults, they need to commit to it and they need to fill out an application and they need to pass a background check. We will match a “big” with a “little” so interests are similar. We’re asking for at least a year commitment, but the longer the better.”

The next step is in finding at least 20 adult volunteers to be “bigs,” organizers do not anticipate finding 20 kids in need of mentorship to be a problem.

There is also a financial aspect to the drive, as organizers are seeking in the area of $50,000 startup funding for administrative costs, opening an office and getting a local case manager.

“We’re hoping to get it up and going in six months, having matches made and the funding available,” said Wetzel. “We will be taking applications that night. We’ll have a question-and-answer at the end.”

For Fearing, his connection to the group originally came from inspiration in Rick Warren’s blockbuster 2002 book, A Purpose Driven Life.

“That was a hot seller at the time and I got to thinking about what I can do. I never had a son, but I had two wonderful daughters, and I wanted to give back,” said Fearing.

Mentoring became a passion for Fearing and his wife, Lois, as well as for his daughters Jamie and Jenny, now 37 and 35, who have been involved in mentoring themselves, Jamie as a Big Sister and Jenny during college in Colorado as a member of Mountain Mentors.

“I know from the mother of the first one, Joey, that she was so appreciative of the short time I got to spend with him,” said Fearing. “And Brandon, the second one, had a father, but the father wasn’t home so I spent time with him on vacation and stuff like that. He moved away, but I’ve been able to follow him through high school.”

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