Edition: October 2005 - Vol 13 Number 10
Article#: 2246
Author: Repertoire

For more than 100 years, Big Brothers Big Sisters has built one-to-one relationships between adult volunteers and children at risk. By spending time together, ďBigsĒ serve as friends, mentors and role models, and encourage ďLittlesĒ to realize their potential. Relationships are open-ended, meaning they donít have specific ending dates. But many Bigs and Littles stay in touch for years, long after the regular get-togethers have ended.

Today, more than 500 Big Brothers Big Sisters agencies nationwide match adult volunteers and kids based on common interests and the childrenís specific needs. Big Brothers Big Sisters estimates that over the past 100 years, its mentors have influenced the lives of more than 1 million kids. Thanks to Randy Hampton of Cardinal Health, 14-year-old DiJon Willis is one of them.

Repertoire: How did you get into medical sales?

Randy Hampton: Cardinal (then called Allegiance, a Cardinal company) came to the University of Wisconsin to interview. My degree was in marketing. But my wifeís dad is in medical sales with Johnson & Johnson, so he talked to me about medical sales. Allegiance told me I could be hired in February (2001), but that if I were, I would not know where I would live until April. I was hired, and I requested to be in the Midwest.

In April, I got a phone call. I was told I had a choice of Kansas City or Cleveland. I asked, ďWhen do you need to know?Ē and he said, ďIf you donít let me know now, Iím going to call up the other guy and find out where he wants to go.Ē Amy [Hamptonís then wife-to-be] was sitting next to me. We werenít engaged, but we kind of knew we would be. So we took out a map and looked. Amy said that her father had done some business in Kansas City and liked it. So thatís where I went in July 2001.

Rep: When did you first learn about Big Brothers Big Sisters?

In college, I had a roommate who had a six-month internship in northern Wisconsin. He knew no one there, so he decided to get involved with a kid who needed a little direction. I donít know if it was officially Big Brothers Big Sisters, but it was a similar type of program. Later, as I was driving to Kansas City after visiting home, I realized I didnít know many people there and I had some free time. So I thought [Big Brothers] would be a good and fun way to spend my free time.

Rep: How did you get matched with your Little Brother?

[Big Brothers Big Sisters] asks what you like to do. Iím into sports, so they wanted to pair me up with a kid who liked sports. Somebody else might be into music, so he would be matched up with someone with that interest. They did background checks on me; they do a good job of checking references. I was matched with my Little Brother, DiJon Willis, in February 2002.

Rep: How did DiJon get involved in the program?

Heís a high school freshman now; heíll be 15 in December. He was 12 when we met. He lives with his mom and older sister. His dad lives [out of state], and contact with him is sporadic. His mom enrolled him in the program realizing he didnít have any type of male in his life. The last thing they do at home is to turn on an NBA basketball game, but he likes that stuff. He had nobody to shoot hoops with or toss a football around with. His mom was working two jobs and going to school. She has since graduated from college and has started a career.

Rep: Was it scary meeting him, wondering what you were going to do?

After our first meeting, that went away. The biggest struggle I had was with the fact that he is very quiet, so I didnít know if he was having fun or not.

Rep: How often do you get together, and what do you do?

Initially, Big Brothers Big Sisters wants you to get together once a week, to make sure your relationship is working. So we did. Now, we get together once every two weeks, Tuesday nights, when my wife coaches (under-age-11) soccer. We almost always hang out at my house. Sometimes my wife is around, but the program is really designed for guy-and-guy interaction, and girl-and-girl interaction. We cook dinner, eat together, watch TV or a movie, shoot hoops. I donít think he cares what we do, so long as we are doing something. Sometimes we finish up his homework or work on a project that needs finishing.

It isnít really that big of a time commitment: three hours a week or every other week. And Big Brothers are always getting tickets donated. Iíll get an e-mail once a week about free tickets to a Royals [baseball] game, Kansas City Wizards [soccer] game, Kansas City Chiefs [football] game or a movie. Weíve seen the Harlem Globetrotters. I was assistant coach for DiJonís YMCA basketball team for a couple of years; that was a good opportunity for me to hang out with him and other kids with similar interests.

Rep: What kind of support do you get?

We have a case manager. Iím sure she contacts DiJon and his family regularly. She shoots me an e-mail once a month or once a quarter, asking how things are going. The Kansas City area has been great. They sponsor quarterly get-togethers for the Bigs are sponsored, where we can talk about troubles and try to figure them out. Itís like a support group. I was at a meeting of potential Big Brothers, and there were all kinds of people there, [like] truck drivers and grandfathers. There are tons of people doing this, but tons more are needed. In Kansas City, there are more than 100 boys waiting for a Big Brother.

Rep: What do you think DiJon has gotten out of the experience?

On a basic level, heís gotten someone to talk to about football or basketball, or even girls. We did something else that helped: We sat down and set goals for his school grades. If he meets the goal, he gets to choose a dream night. I have noticed that his grades have improved when he is motivated by something like that. But I think on a basic level, the most important thing is that he has a guy to hang out with.

Rep: Do sales reps make good Big Brothers? Why?

One thing is the flexibility in our schedules. DiJon has my cell phone number. Iíve told him, ďIf you get into a bind, call me.Ē If Iím in town, I can get over there to help him out. He knows Iím always there for that. The second thing is that sales reps are pretty talkative and can communicate well. Weíre pretty outgoing. I am OK with DiJon being quiet, but I donít know if he would be OK with me being quiet. He might question, ďDoes this guy like me or what?Ē

Rep: How long will you have a Big Brother-Little Brother relationship with DiJon?

Thereís no ceiling on these relationships. If a [Big and Little] were having problems or not getting along, they could say, ďThis isnít working out.Ē But you hear stories of Little Brothers who have asked their Big Brothers to be the best man at their weddings. If I would ever have to move away, I would imagine that even though we wouldnít talk all the time, I would always know of him, know what heís doing and stay in touch at some level.