PUBLISHED: 3:04 PM on Wednesday, December 21, 2005
Perfect Match
Big Brothers Big Sisters match connects people to create special bond of family

Photo by Amanda Gragert
  Seth Brickey, center, and Russ Kelly, left, formed a friendship from a match made by Big Brothers Big Sisters of Southeast Alaska. Seth's mom, Sara Brickey, has since became a volunteer for the BBBS school program.
When Seth Brickey gained a brother, he also gained an extended family.

Brickey was matched with Russ Kelly two years ago as part of Big Brothers Big Sisters. Both were new to town.

"We were signed up in Michigan and never got matched," said Sara Brickey, Seth's mom. "We weren't here long when he got matched with Russ."

Russ said growing up in a large family and having many nieces and nephews, he has always enjoyed working with children. He used to coach youth basketball and learned of BBBS while living in Fairbanks.

"I've always enjoyed being around young kids," Russ said. "Seth has a wonderful, supportive mom, but it's nice to have an adult male to look up to."

Russ and Sara said they were initially nervous before everyone met.

"I think anybody would be because you don't know who it is," Russ said. "It takes time to get to know each other, but they (BBBS) do a very good job of making the matches. It's amazing."

Sara said she wanted Seth to have a male role model, but was apprehensive about letting her son leave with a stranger.

"I stayed home and was a nervous wreck the whole time," Sara said.

Seth, an 11-year-old sixth-grader at Floyd Dryden Middle School, said he wasn't aware of what BBBS was before he met Russ.

"I didn't know you actually interacted. I thought it was just writing letters or something. I was bored with the whole thing and just thought I was a charity case," Seth said.

"When I first met him, he looked like a business worker and way too busy to do anything or have time."

After spending time together in activities such as playing video games, going to movies and taking hikes, Seth and Russ became good friends.

"I thought we'd stay neutral forever. I got to meet his girlfriend, and I thought that was pretty cool. Our friendship just evolved over time," Seth said.

Sara said Seth talks to Russ at least twice a week and calls Russ when he has news to share or is having a problem.

"Seth has a great role model, male influence and friend in Russ. Seth and Russ spend every Saturday together. Seth lets him know whenever there is any thing going on with us. If I do some bad parenting in Seth's opinion he calls Russ, and Russ always backs me up and tries to help Seth see my point of view," Sara said.

"When I have concerns or I just need someone to talk to regarding Seth, his homework or his behavior, I can call Russ and he is there with guidance and counseling. Russ is really there for Seth and me. He is an honest, respectable and sincere man."

Russ said the open communication helps Seth.

"We don't keep anything from each other and have a very easy time communicating," Russ said.

Sara said that not only did she and Seth become close with Russ, but also gained a family with Russ's wife, Ellen, her mother Anne Schultz and friends of Russ.

"With Russ we got a few extra blessings. Seth has another mother figure in Ellen, and she is always there for moral guidance and always has the right answers to the tough questions.

Anne is a surrogate grandmother for Seth. She is full of wisdom and stories of her travels and the Juneau of her youth. We also have Lauren Yocum, or as we call her Ruby, who is another wonderful influence on Seth with her talent and humor. We spend our holidays together, and we talk weekly. We celebrate and commiserate with each other," Sara said.

Anne said growing up in Juneau, she's seen how people come together to form their own extended families, and she is comfortable with having Sara and Seth as part of her family.

"We certainly have an extended family that's grown out of this, and it's a delight," Anne said. "It's nice to get to know a bright young man at this age. It's a treat for me."

The families enjoy spending holidays together, as well.

"So many people I've met in Alaska are away from family. It feels like family when we get together," Russ said.

Sara said that the holidays are a fun time to be thankful for one another.

"It's great. Russ always finds a way to celebrate each of us," Sara said.

The group also has been together for special occasions such as when Russ and Ellen married last summer and Seth served as co-best man.

"To be honest, I knew it was going to happen. I knew the wedding was coming and that I would have some part in it, but I didn't know it would be best man. I was honored to be so important," said Seth, who memorized a speech for the occasion.

A few months before, Seth honored Russ and Ellen by asking them to be his godparents when he was baptized in Auke Lake.

Seth said he wants to someday attend college and has three potential career choices as an architect, engineer or doctor in the U.S. Army.

"Russ has taught me to have a good financial plan, and those jobs look pretty good. Russ was in the Army, but I don't want to do the fighting. I just want to do the opposite of that," Seth said.

Seth said he sees Russ as a father figure.

"We used to live in Michigan and it was a rough time and I was depressed. It was better when we came here but I still wasn't great, but then I met Russ. They (BBBS) matched us pretty darn well," Seth said. "My dad is an alcoholic and lives in Anchorage, and I've had these hard feelings towards him. That hasn't gone away, but Russ has made my outlook on life better."

Sara said she and her son have been fortunate to have Russ in their lives.

"Russ doesn't think what he does is amazing. He's phenomenal," Sara said. "He always makes time for us. Russ has gone above and beyond what most volunteers are expected to do."

Russ said he finds the BBBS experience rewarding.

"The emphasis is usually what you can do for the kid," Russ said. "It's what I get out of it too. It's that feeling of connecting with a young person that is very rewarding."

Sara and Russ said that while they're happy with the way the BBBS match turned out, it is somewhat of a rarity.

"It's a few hours a week, and just that time is important. If you can do that, it's tremendous," Russ said. "You have to have confidence in just being there for them."

When an adult volunteers for BBBS, an interview and background check is conducted to ensure compatibility with the child.

"You don't feel like they harass you or micromanage you. They make sure to stay in contact so you feel supported," Russ said. "They work so hard to make sure you have a good match."

While volunteers are asked to spend four hours a month with their child match, a school program also is available. In the school match, the adult volunteer has lunch with the child. Sara has become a school "big" for a child named Brandi.

BBBS executive director Marc Wheeler said volunteers are only required to want to have fun with children.

"We have a wide range of volunteers in the program," he said. "The only thing we ask is that the volunteer want to spend time with a child, and that alone makes a difference."

Sara said BBBS has made a difference in the lives of her and Seth and the community.

"It's quite an organization, not only for what my family has received, but for the community," Sara said. "It just touches your heart."