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Sherri Keaton, Published July 26 2010

Mentorship program builds lasting relationships

Logan Salberg curled his right arm close to his body, and with the strength that only a 10-year-old could muster, he pitched the first ball last Wednesday evening at the RedHawks game. His “big brother,” Brett Tillman, 23, of Fargo, watched behind in eager anticipation for his “little’s” throw.

“It feels good because I am excited (to have pitched),” said the 10-year-old Fargo resident. “I think I did good.”

The pair is part of the Big Brothers Big Sisters program of the Village Family Service Center, 501 40th St. S., Suite 201, Fargo. The program serves about 120 children who are matched with 120 volunteers in the program. The BBBS program serves the F-M, West Fargo and Dilworth area.

Tillman and Salberg have known each other for almost a year and a half. But their bond has become one that could last a lifetime.

Tillman said at first Salberg was on the quiet side, but he’s now opened up after they’ve become friends. Tillman said this relationship taught him connecting with a stranger can be rewarding.

“You really do form this bond,” Tillman said, “(this) connection and trust you won’t really anticipate. You just get a lot of unexpected, nice surprises over the years.”

BBBS is a national mentoring program that requires donating as little as four hours out of the month to a “little,” doing common activities like going out for ice cream or to a museum.

“I would recommend this to anyone,” Tillman said. “There is definitely a need.”

Currently, there are 14 girls and 48 boys waiting to be matched in the program.

“We tend to get more boys referred to us for our services,” said Susan Smith, program director of BBBS. “Most of them are living with their moms and looking for that male role model.”

Smith said now the program has a staff capacity and they want to find more male volunteers to serve more children. “It has always been one of our challenges in recruiting male volunteers,” she said.

This year, the program could be serving about 200 children, approximately 50 fewer children than last year, unless more volunteers sign up.

“Our two challenges are always funding and the need for volunteers,” she said. Because BBBS doesn’t charge a fee for their services, they rely on the community for both, she said. “The volunteers get just as much out of (BBBS) as the kids do.” she said. “And the relationship – you’re not only there for a child, making that impact in (his or her) life, but (the child) going to be impacting yours as well.”

Readers can reach Forum reporter Sherri Keaton at (701) 235-7311