David Rios was the baby of his family. He never had a little brother or little sister. As he grew up, he realized he enjoyed working with children. He volunteered at elementary schools and chaperoned youth activities for his church.
When he signed up two years ago to volunteer with the Treasure Valley chapter of Big Brothers Big Sisters, Rios went through a rigorous screening and training process, then was matched with the sidekick he’d always wanted: JT Nunez.
The duo have gone bowling, cheered at Stampede and Broncos games, biked and hiked, gone Jet Skiing, played games at Dave and Buster’s and Wahooz, and talked about their lives.
Last June, when Rios, 25, got married, 11-year-old JT was the Bible bearer in his wedding.
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Hanging out with Nunez brings out Rios’ creative side and forces him to be carefree and have fun.
“He has helped me out a whole lot, more than he actually knows,” Rios said. “I’m not that old, but the mentality I have is — I’m serious, I try to be serious all the time. I try to act mature.”
LITTLE BROS ARE WAITING IN LINE
The nonprofit organization needs more people like Rios. It’s facing a shortage of men stepping up to become Big Brothers. There is a shortage of all mentors in Canyon County, where Rios and Nunez live.
Big Brothers Big Sisters of Southwest Idaho has 219 active matches — “Littles” who meet at least two or three times a month with their “Bigs.” Sixty children are waiting for a Big Brother or Big Sister. The waiting list is mostly boys.
Want to be a Big Brother or Big Sister? Visit bbbsidaho.org, call 208-377-2552, or stop by an open house at the Nampa Police Department’s Baker Community Meeting Room between 6 and 7:30 p.m. on Tuesday, Jan. 10.
“Not only are they waiting longer, there’s just a larger number of them coming in,” said Emily Johnson, chief operating officer. “In Canyon County, we have kids who have been waiting over a year. It’s not that they are difficult to match, we just really struggle finding volunteers from that area.”
The shortage of male volunteers in Big Brothers Big Sisters organizations goes back at least a decade, and it hinders mentoring for little boys across North America. This year alone, chapters in New York, New Jersey, Illinois and Nova Scotia, Canada, have voiced a need for many more Big Brothers.
The local chapter asks volunteers to commit to at least one year, with two to three activities a month.
“I think sometimes, the Big Brothers specifically can shy away from that, thinking that’s a big ask of their time,” Johnson said. “If you’re going to go on a hike, even hang out and watch a football game, go fishing, the only difference is going to be that you’re bringing a Little with you.”
‘FAMILY MEMBER THAT I’VE NEVER HAD’
JT said his Big Brother has become someone he can open up to about school and what’s going on in his life.
“He’s always having us do extremely fun things. I always look forward to hanging out with him, every single day,” JT said. “He always takes me to really fun places, and he’s kind of like another family member that I’ve never had.”
Cindy Nunez, a single mother in Caldwell, said Rios is a role model and male figure in her son’s life.
JT now has more confidence to try new things, she said. He signed up to play football this year, a first. He didn’t love the sport, but she’s proud of him for giving it a try, and she credits Rios with encouraging JT to join.
Rios and Cindy Nunez said the organization put many hours into screening Rios before he was selected, then went through a process to match the two Brothers based on compatibility. Johnson said that helps ensure a Little and a Big will have an easier time figuring out how to spend their Saturday afternoon or Thursday evening.
Big Brothers told the Statesman that the program’s staffers offer ideas for activities, have free passes from organizations like the YMCA and host free events.
Johnson said the organization is there to support potential Big Brothers who may feel unready to be a mentor — who think they don’t have enough money in their bank accounts or lack confidence in their ability to be a good Big Brother.
“Where you are now is just fine,” she said.
‘I HOPE I MAKE A DIFFERENCE’
Ted Frisbee and his Little Brother meet every other Tuesday night.
Frisbee, 40, lives in Mountain Home but works in Southeast Boise. A father of two girls, he signed up almost four years ago to be a Big Brother. That’s when he met Graeme Essman, who was in fifth grade and did not have a father at home.
“I was blessed with an extremely awesome family and an extremely awesome father, and I’d like to share that,” Frisbee said. “I have a couple of daughters that I share that with, but I hope I make a difference in Graeme’s life.”
Now 14, Graeme said he is more confident and has better social skills because of the time he spends with Frisbee.
His Big Brother taught him to swim. Frisbee is in the audience at Graeme’s choir concerts. He was there when Graeme caught his first fish at Wilson’s Pond in Nampa.
“There have been times where he went through some things, where meeting with him on Tuesday nights is a struggle,” Frisbee said. When he asks whether Graeme wants to keep meeting, the teenager responds, “Heck yeah.”
ONE YEAR MADE A DIFFERENCE
Dakotah Cole is a 28-year-old social-work student at Boise State University. He grew up without a father and did not have much stability. He turned to drugs and alcohol.
“It wasn’t until my early 20s that I kind of wised up,” Cole said.
He was drawn to social work and volunteering. He signed up for the Big Brothers Big Sisters program that does school-based mentoring.
For the past year, Cole has visited 10-year-old Trizton at the boy’s elementary school. They play basketball and games like Trouble or Sorry, and they participated together in the science fair last year.
“I knew when he was matched with me that he wasn’t good socially with other kids,” Cole said. “He had anger issues, wasn’t allowed to go to recess ... missed a lot of school.”
Trizton today is a lot different, he said. He goes to school, is eager to learn, has fewer disciplinary problems and opens up instead of isolating himself.
“He gets so excited to see me when I show up” and says Big Brother-Little Brother days are his favorite days of the week, Cole said.
Cole had not heard of the shortage of male volunteers before. Now he plans to start preaching the benefits of being a Big.
“Just knowing that I’m having a positive impact on somebody’s life is reward enough,” he said.