Big Brothers Big Sisters: Creating Extended Families

Darlene Eargle, a single parent and grandparent, has known about the Big Brothers Big Sisters program since her sons were teenagers. She had seen first-hand the positive relationships her boys had developed with their Bigs.  Now raising her grandchildren, Jamani and Jaylen, she decided to enter them into the program. Darlene found the perfect matches with Margo and Kyle McMackin, who have become Bigs for her grandchildren and an extension of the Eargle family. What makes this relationship even better is that Margo was Jamani’s Kindergarten teacher.

Margo and Jamani had established a special relationship throughout the previous school year. “It was like a match made in heaven,” said Darlene. When the year ended, the two were sad to be separated. But Darlene would not let this happen. She knew there was a way to keep Margo in Jamani’s life. In addition, she wanted to find a good male role model for Jaylen. He had been waiting to be matched with a Big for a few years. So, Darlene decided to ask Margo and her husband Kyle to consider becoming Bigs to her grandchildren. The McMackins were delighted to make this happen.

Big Brothers Big Sisters of the Upstate serves children between 6 and 18 years old. This organization has been bringing mentors into children’s lives since 1904. Today, Big Brothers Big Sisters operates in all 50 states as well as 35 countries worldwide. All Bigs go through a background check and interview process before being matched with their Littles. Matches are based on location, personality, and preferences. Bigs commit to spending a minimum of 1 hour per week with their Littles. During this time, the pairs do all kinds of activities. Everything from going to the library or museum to just hanging out and talking. The goal is to create solid, lasting relationships.

When Jamani and Jaylen went to Big Brothers Big Sisters of the Upstate to learn who their Bigs would be, they were already excited. But when Jamani found out that Margo was going to be her big sister, her reaction was extremely emotional. When Jaylen met his big brother for the first time, he was also ecstatic. He had been waiting for a long time, and he knew that Kyle that would be a great Big Brother. Darlene said, “I liked seeing my grandchildren with that wide-eyed deer look. It was like, ‘Wow!’”

When Margo and Jamani were first matched, Jamani made a list of things she wanted to do with her Big Sister. They go through that list whenever they are planning activities. “Jamani is such a sweet little girl and everything is exciting to her,” shared Margo. They have fun going to the library, making pottery and taking lots of pictures together. And they really enjoy doing “girly” things together like going to the mall and getting their nails done.  Darlene, a self-proclaimed tomboy, said. “I am so glad that Margo does all the frilly things with Jamani.”

Kyle and Jaylen do lots of sports-related activities when they are together. They attended a Clemson basketball game. And Kyle has helped Jaylen train for his baseball tryouts. “It feels like I’m a part of it,” Kyle said. “Jaylen is an awesome athlete.” The two also enjoy going to SkyZone, which is another way they like to stay active.

The five of them also spend lots of time together as group. They went pumpkin picking in the fall and sometimes they go out to eat together. Kyle and Margo had the family over for a Christmas dinner and gift exchange. “Christmas meant so much to Kyle and me,” Margo said. Jamani and Jaylen made hats and scarves for the two of them as Christmas presents with help from their grandmother.

“It’s amazing that we have this connection. We’re just one big happy family,” Darlene said.

“This experience is so rewarding,” Kyle shared. “If it weren’t for Margo teaching Jamani we would have never known about the possibility of volunteering for Big Brothers Big Sisters and being part of Jamani and Jaylen’s lives.” Darlene is grateful to Kyle and Margo for their help and the positive influences they bring to her grandchildren’s lives. “We all have a true connection. I don’t know how it happened, I don’t know why it happened, but I’m so glad it happened.”

For more information on Big Brothers Big Sisters of the Upstate, visit www.bbbsupstate.com or call (864)-242-0676.

Debbie Nelson

Debbie Nelson is the president and founder of DNA Creative Communications, a woman-owned public relations and inspirational marketing firm for nonprofit organizations. Under Debbie’s leadership, in 2010 DNA founded Shine the Light Nonprofit Forums, an annual training program for Greenville nonprofits in partnership with the Community Foundation of Greenville County, the United Way of Greenville County and the Hollingsworth Funds. To support other nonprofits across the state, she also manages education programs for the South Carolina Association of Nonprofit Organization. As an a advocate for the nonprofit community, each month Debbie shares nonprofit stories in her Shine the Light columns in the Greenville Business Magazine and the Columbia Business Monthly. In addition she teaches nonprofit marketing at Clemson University to inspire and develop future nonprofit leaders. Debbie is a graduate of Leadership Greenville, Leadership South Carolina and the Riley Institute’s Diversity Leadership Initiative. She currently serves on the boards of the Greenville Area Development Corporation, the South Carolina Independent Colleges and Universities, the United Way of Greenville County and the United Way Association of South Carolina.

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