June 2011

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live in a man’s world Why did you first decide to join BBBS? I was established in the community, had a career and a relationship and everything was settled, so I decided it was time for me to give back. At work they had a volunteer fair, and as I was walking along, [BBBS] jumped out at me. [I knew] this was what I wanted to do. Bob Wright An ordinary guy making an extraordinary commitment By Anna Asendorf As first encounters go, this one didn’t exactly play out as predicted. Instead of riding go-karts, as planned for the first day they met, Bob Wright and his “little brother,” a shy, then 11-year-old boy named Malcolm, found themselves victims of car trouble. Their day speeding around a racetrack turned into an afternoon eating ice cream and watching a tow truck drive away with Wright’s car. The two had been paired by Big Brothers Big Sisters of Madison, the local chapter of the nationwide nonprofit program that matches young kids with an adult mentor. The pairs—known affectionately as “bigs” and “littles”—forge a bond through frequent activities that help build the younger one’s confidence while the elder plays a positive influence along the way. Despite their shaky first encounter seven years ago, Wright and Malcolm have become a success story. Today, Wright, who con- ducts clinical trials at Covance in Madison, now touts the honor of being named 2011’s Wisconsin Big of the Year. Malcolm, an athlete and recent high school graduate, is preparing to head to Minnesota State University, Mankato in the fall. While his mission was to be a role model for someone else, Wright says the change in his own life has been the most influential of all. 26 BRAVA Magazine June 2011 “ ” You and Malcolm bonded over a love for the outdoors. What kind of activities do you do together? We go camping, hunting and fishing. [My partner, Bill, and I] live on a farm northwest of Madison, so Malcolm does projects around the farm [with us]. Last summer, we went to Canada for 10 days and we plan to go to back this summer as our big celebration before he goes off to college. There’s a huge impact, like throwing a pebble in a pond, the ripples just spread. How has this experience changed you? The big secret [about BBBS] is that I get more out of this than he does. I came into this thinking I had to be a perfect role model, but everyone has their faults. It’s not a problem for me to be honest with him about what I don’t do well—I don’t do sports, and that’s OK. I’ve realized it’s more important for me to be a role model that’s not perfect than it is for me to be a perfect role model. What do you want everyone to know about BBBS? [BBBS] has great support and guidance [for volunteers and fami- lies]. But case managers are overworked and the budget is tight. There are over 300 kids in the Madison area on a waiting list for a big, and a lot of them wait for two or three years. Seventy percent of those kids are boys, but only 30 percent of volunteers are men. If you do [BBBS], you will be amazed at how much fun it is and how much you will get out of it. Volunteering with BBBS requires interviews, background checks and training, but you say it’s worth it. What are the key lessons of the program? [BBBS] provides the opportunity to really make an impact in your community that not only affects the kid, but [also makes a lasting impression on] the family and the child’s life in the future. There’s a huge impact, like throwing a pebble in a pond, the ripples just spread. The chance to give somebody that kind of gift…you don’t get that very often. How did you feel when you were named Big of the Year? Totally astonished. Malcolm thought it was pretty cool, and I told him if he wasn’t such a good guy this wouldn’t have worked out so well. My whole goal as Big of the Year is [to] motivate [others] to become a big. That would be a huge success. You and Malcolm spent last year getting him set for college— sending in applications and everything. Though your relationship won’t end when he heads to school this fall, do you think you’ll ask to be paired with another little? Definitely. I don’t want to rush into it but I’m definitely getting another little brother. It’s just a great experience and I’m looking forward to it. ••• Photo by Greg Anderson

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