Some of our supporters know Alex Toner as our Development Officer, working to bring in monetary donations to further our agency’s mission. But to eleven-year old Zahir, Alex is his Big Brother.
Alex and Zahir were matched in July 2012. “I’m the youngest in my family, so I wanted to spend time with a young person to have fun and offer guidance and support,” Alex told us. “What I like most about spending time with Zahir is he is honest and has a ton of energy.”
Sometimes the match will have a catch and a slice of pizza or attend Big Brothers Big Sisters’ events, like Bigs & Littles Trainings (or BLTs for short). “The BLT’s are planned and facilitated by Match Support Specialists. The staff talks to kids about their expectations, what it means to be a Little, showing appreciation and setting match goals. Bigs participate in a round table discussion, are given extra training for their roles and can trouble shoot any challenges with staff and other Bigs. It was really beneficial for both Zahir and me.”
The Big Brother says there have been two stand-out moments in his match so far. “Through a very generous ticket donation to the agency, Zahir and I were able to sit courtside at a 76ers game in January. Seeing his face when he realized where we were sitting was amazing, and he even told me, ‘This is the best day I’ve ever had!'”
The second came stand-out moment occurred later, at an unexpected moment. Outside of volunteering as a mentor, Alex also devotes time and energy to another cause, the Penn State Dance MaraTHON, which helps children with cancer and their families at Hershey Medical Center. Over the past year, Alex raised money and awareness for the cause through the Hope Express, an alumni effort, and was selected to be a runner in a special 135-mile relay race from Hershey Medical Center to State College one February to kick off the Dance MaraTHON. To help keep his spirits up during the challenging race, Zahir mailed Alex a note which was given to him at his halfway point. “Seeing the letter during the race was a huge surprise and gave me the extra boost I needed to finish.”
Alex says being a Big keeps him grounded and helps him see the world through the eyes of a child again. “It’s an awesome experience, and I hope others consider getting involved. Spending time with a child just twice a month can really impact their life.”