WHEN Big Brothers Big Sisters of the Upper Ohio Valley called Bob Dobkin's mother to tell her they found a match for her son, the good news was tempered with a bit of doubt. The "Big" they'd found for Bob was unusual - Walt Masters of Moundsville was in his early 60's and had just retired - and the organization wasn't sure it would work due to the age difference. Although Dobkin was only 11 or 12 at that time, he remembers his mother told Big Brothers Big Sisters to just let her son and Masters decide if it would work. "Thankfully she gave us the opportunity because it was a perfect match," Dobkin recalled. "It could not have been more perfect."
Growing up in Moundsville, Dobkin was nine years old when his father died. Dobkin's mother, with four children to raise, signed up the kids for the Big Brothers Big Sisters program. Dobkin's two sisters and his brother were all matched before he was, and before meeting his "Big," Dobkin's excitement about the program grew. He described his siblings' "Bigs" as "kind people that included everybody," and he was always included in their activities even though he had yet to be matched.
Dobkin had no expectations, however, when he met Masters for the first time. However, they quickly formed a bond that still lasts to this day. "I felt like his situation was really unique because he retired but he decided to dedicate his time to me," Dobkin said. "Obviously, it made me feel special."
One of the first things Dobkin did with his Big Brother? They rode bikes. It was something they'd do together very often.
The other activity the two enjoyed together? "We probably ate more ice cream than what was legal," Dobkin said with a laugh. "We both had a love for ice cream." He recalled spending time at Marshall Dairy and Dairy Queen, and he chuckled as he revealed they may have been "kicked out of Ponderosa because they had that never-ending ice cream bar." Dobkin and Masters would spend a lot of time eating ice cream and just talking.
Over the years, even though Dobkin moved away for a while, the two still managed to stay in touch with cards or notes. Now that Dobkin lives locally again, he and Masters can visit each other a few times a year.
Dobkin strongly believes in the Big Brothers Big Sisters program. "One of the most important things in life is having a mentor. It helps shape who we are. Whether it's a Big Brother or an uncle or whatever it may be, those people help shape what we become. My Big Brother played a major role in shaping what I became," he said.
He also offered some advice to parents who are contemplating placing their children in the program. "Oh my goodness, sign them up!" he stated emphatically. "Every child deserves a mentor. While parents are our greatest mentors, it's something special to have that outside influence. That's one thing this program offers."
The many mentors a person can have, the better, Dobkin said. His mom was not lacking anything as a parent - that is not why she signed her children up for the program. As a single mother whose husband had just died, she realized that her children needed some outside influence, someone to help make a positive difference in their lives. "You owe it to your child to help provide that outside influence," Dobkin said.
And Big Brothers Big Sisters is not just for families with a single parent. Many families require both parents work full time jobs, leaving them less time to spend with their children. Any family that feels their children could benefit from having a positive influence - "someone to just help them with homework or teach them something new," Dobkin said - can benefit from Big Brothers Big Sisters. Having a little more of that in our lives is definitely a good thing, according to Dobkin. "Who doesn't want another big brother? Especially one that drives!" he added with a laugh.
Big Brothers Big Sisters is a very important organization, especially to Dobkin and his family. He knows from his own personal experience and from the experience of his siblings that the program provided a lot to his family. "It extended our family," he added.
"The absolute best thing this program offers is smiles and laughter," Dobkin said, turning serious again. "As a mother or father, if you can teach your child to laugh and live as a child, you've given them everything. That's what this program does. It creates smiles. It creates laughter. And nothing feels better than those two things."
For more information about Big Brothers Big Sisters of the Upper Ohio Valley, call 304-232-0520.
Hershberger can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org