Story by Jeannie Stone
Big Brothers Big Sisters of North Central Arkansas believes in saving children. They stand on some pretty solid ground, too, because national statistics support the immediate and long–term benefits of children who are mentored by a Big Brother of Big Sister.
There are two programs offered through the local office. Through community mentoring, children and mentors meet in the community according to individual schedules and interests. Site-based mentoring offers children and mentors the chance to meet at the schools.
Ralph Horner & Brad Crow
Ralph Horner knows what it’s like having brothers and sisters. He is the baby of five children with two older sisters and two older brothers.
Brad Crow, 17, has two sisters, so he always wanted a big brother. Horner fit the bill.
It was cool getting to sit at the visitors’ table at Dwight Elementary School, Crow said. “It made me feel special.”
Because Horner and Crow are part of a school-based program, they have shared many cafeteria meals together.
“It really is true,” Crow said, “the food gets better as you go from one school to the next. We have more choices in high school.”
“I don’t know,” Horner said. “I thought the food was pretty good in elementary school.”
The pair meets on a weekly schedule, but what used to be an hour lunch break has been reduced to about 20 minutes Horner said.
“These kids don’t even have time to digest their food. We barely get a chance to catch up.”
Ever since middle school, the two have met in a separate room from the rest of the student body.
“At the beginning, when we had more time, he would practice reading to me. He loved Harry Potter, and we practiced the multiplication tables using flash cards,” Horner said.
“He really got ahead of the class with those practice sessions.
Horner takes the weekly lunch hour out of his day working at St. John’s Catholic School as a custodian.
“My grandchildren are all up north,” he said. “This gives me an opportunity to hang with a younger person.”
Horner moved to Russellville because of the warmer climate and retired from Tyson’s after 18 years as a forklift operator before picking up work at St. John’s.
One of the earliest interests they shared is a love for fishing.
“I didn’t do all that much fishing in Nebraska, so most of what I know I learned here in Arkansas. I’ve been pretty successful with trout and catfish,” Horner said.
Crow has played football since junior high, and his Big Brother has supported him in that as well.
“I would just sit with his parents,” Horner said. “Brad has a lot of people who care about him.”
“The whole experience has been great. I never wanted it to stop,” Crow said, “and my parents love him. We’re definitely going through graduation together.”
“My wife told me I just might have to go to college with him,” Horner said, with a chuckle.”
“I would definitely recommend this program to younger kids,” Crow said. “When I was little I was really shy, and I’ve become more social. Having a Big Brother will help you develop a lot.”
“His shyness sure went away,” Horner said. “They told me he didn’t have a lot of friends, and his grades needed help, but now he has lots of friends, great grades, and he talks at least as much as I do, and that’s a lot.”
“I have a lot of friends now that Ralph has become my brother,” Crow said.
Bill Converse & Albert Arce
“The program only goes up to age 18, but we decided to continue our friendship even though Albert’s in college now.”
Converse and Arce have a unique relationship which began the month Arce turned thirteen.
“My mom heard about the program and recommended me, but I had to be talked into it,” he said, “I wasn’t excited about meeting someone new.”
Converse, on the other hand, was encouraged by his wife, Marvelee, to check out Big Brothers.
“I had just retired from ANO (Arkansas Nuclear One), and she was afraid I’d get bored,” Converse said. “After all, I don’t fish really or hunt or play a musical instrument.”
Converse did have experience volunteering at Saint Mary’s Medical Center and did have experience with youth both as a former soccer coach and as a helper in his church’s youth ministry. When fellow church member Beth Latham mentioned the opportunity to become a Big Brother, he thought he’d give it a try.
“We tried a variety of things when Albert was young,” he said. “We went bowling, played pool, and Albert and I tried fishing together. He also likes to play video games, so I watched him play games. We would just take off and explore different places. We even went to a Tech football game. I had never been to one before.”
The two bonded over every adventure, but two activities proved to be their common ground. “We both loved going to movies and eating,” Converse said.
“We’ve tried just about every restaurant in Russellville,” Arce added, “and we’ve been to a lot of movies.”
Over the years the two-some have allowed room for individual movie preferences, but they agree on one thing. “We don’t like idiotic movies that are just plain dumb,” Converse said.
“I talked Bill into seeing a movie once that was really bad,” Arce said. “It was ‘The Date Movie’, and it was so terrible, it was embarrassing, and I apologized all the way home. I generally like parodies, but that one was pointless.”
Converse shared he didn’t like war movies.
Arce, whose two younger sisters also participate in the Big Sisters program, has enjoyed the relational aspect of the match.
“I respect Bill’s opinion, and I’ve asked for his advice a lot. He’s even offered to help me with homework which I appreciate,” he said.
“We talked a lot this past year about what Albert’s options were after high school, and what college would be like,” Converse said, “and now look at him. He’s an old pro now.”
Miriam Garcia, Arce’s mother, has nothing but praise for Bill: “He helped Albert a lot,” she said. “Albert lives in a houseful of women, and he needed a positive male figure in his life. Bill encourages Albert to open up and talk to me, and I’m so grateful because he tends to bottle everything up inside.”
Arce is glad to have the ongoing friendship during his freshman year at Arkansas Tech. “I’ve been so busy studying, and now I’m looking for a summer job, that I’ve not had time to make friends.”
“And I get a guy pal to do stuff with,” Converse said.
“Oh, I would have never gotten to do everything I’ve done without Bill,” Arce said.
The truth of the matter is one can never have too many friends.