After finishing graduate school about five years ago, Brandon Kotsko had some free time to do something he’d always thought about: become a Big Brother.
Kotsko, who says he did not have the best family life growing up, saw the need for children to have a positive mentor in their lives. He had one Little Brother for about a year, then stayed in the program to be matched up with another by Big Brothers Big Sisters of The Bridge.
The Bear Creek resident has been pals with his Little Brother “Joey” for four years. He has seen the Pittston boy, whom he fondly refers to as the “Little Guy,” grow up before his eyes. “He’s in ninth grade now, and he just got his first girlfriend,” Kotsko said.
Kotsko also has seen the need for others to get their own Big Brother or Big Sister.
About 270 children are waiting for a Big Brother or Big Sister to mentor and guide them, or just take them out for pizza or a movie.
Providing financial support for Big Brothers Big Sisters is the goal of its largest annual fund-raising event, Bowl for Kids’ Sake, now in its 32nd year. This year’s event is set for 9 a.m.-5 p.m. Saturday at Stanton Lanes in Wilkes-Barre, with similar events at five other sites: Bowl Arena, Hazleton; P-Nut Bowl, Bloomsburg; Belvedere Lanes, Nicholson; Fritz’s Lanes, Lehighton; and Sky Lanes, East Stroudsburg.
“This is our signature fundraiser across the country,” said Tanya Olaviany, program director, noting that money stays in the community in which it was raised.
More than 3,000 bowlers participate, she said, and most aren’t regulars in the lanes.
Bowlers can participate on their own or on teams, many of which are workplace-sponsored. The teams can schedule times or just bowl for about an hour. They also can enjoy free food and refreshments.
Past amounts raised have ranged from $80,000 to $94,000, about 20 percent of the organization’s annual budget, Olaviany said.
Bowlers raise donations for their time, sometimes getting pledges based on the number of pins dropped. There are prize incentives for those who earn the most money.
Last year, the program served about 400 children, Olaviany said.
A prospective Big Brother or Big Sister must make a one-year commitment and agree to spend about one or two hours per week with a Little Brother or Little Sister. The activities can range from baking cookies together to playing football in the park. Olaviany said it is not so much about what is done as it is about the friendship and mentoring.
“The time that a Big Brother or Big Sister spends with the child is important,” she said. “A relationship develops, and it really makes a difference.”
“Some people mistakenly think it costs a lot of money or takes a lot of your time,” Kotsko said. “It doesn’t. We usually meet for about an hour or so once a week after school. A lot of times, we just hang out, and we go to the burrito place at Montage or Olive Garden.”
He said the pair usually talks about school. “I usually just listen to him and offer guidance if I can,” Kotsko said. “He might open up to me about something at school. I’m not there to correct him, just help maneuver him in the right direction if I can.”
The money raised funds a professional staff that recruits, screens and trains volunteers and matches them to the right child. The case management team regularly contacts the volunteer to check on the relationship.
“Many of the relationships we matched have forged into friendships and bonds that have continued over five or six years or more,” Olaviany said.
“It’s been a positive influence on my life,” Kotsko said. “Being a Big Brother has given me an additional purpose.”