My Brother, myself.

By guest blogger, Kenneth A. Turkewitz.

A few years ago, I did something a little unusual. I spoke to my little brother for the first time in about 16 years. Well, maybe it’s not quite as bad as it sounds.

The story starts when I was 22, just about to graduate from college. Following in the footsteps of my older brother, I signed up with the local Big Brothers Association. (I didn’t know at the time about Jewish Big Brothers Big Sisters. Once I had been accepted as a Big Brother, I wasn’t prepared to go back to square one to start over with JBBBS.)

I met Bobby when he was seven years old. As with some Little Brothers, there had been no steady adult male role model in Bobby’s life. Bobby and I went to movies and on short outings. It felt a little awkward at first. I couldn’t always figure out what to talk about. I’m sure he felt the same way. Where was that natural flow we were supposed to have?

As time went on, we got a little closer. After two years of being matched with Bobby, I went on a year-long overseas assignment, and so Big Brothers terminated our “official” relationship. Bobby and I stayed in touch, but it wasn’t the same as being there. Later, I married and started a family of my own. Bobby and his family attended the wedding, and Bobby and I continued to do a few things together.

Eventually, our lives got very busy and we started seeing less of each other. I made one brief visit to his home when I was in his neighborhood. Bobby was about 21 at the time and getting ready to go abroad with the Air Force. I couldn’t believe that I was looking up at my Little Brother, who was now a man.

Over the years, I would occasionally make unsuccessful attempts to track him down. (His family moved, and he has a fairly common last name. This made the search a little difficult.) Three years ago, though, an Internet search included a telephone number. One thing led to another, and I eventually had a long conversation with, first, his mother, and, later, Bobby himself.

Bobby now owns a successful computer business, is recently married, and is still with the Air Force Reserves. I was delighted at how successful and grown-up he had become. I got great satisfaction in learning his inspiration for being in the computer business was using (well, playing on) a Mac SE that I had at home in the mid-80s. I’d like to think that I had something to do with his direction and with the man that he’s grown up to be.

I always knew that the decision to become a Big Brother was a good one. But now I know exactly how good it was.

Ken Turkewitz is the President of the New England Region of the Federation of Jewish Men’s Clubs. He is a recently-accepted and soon-to-be-matched Big Brother with Jewish Big Brothers Big Sisters of Greater Boston.

Advertisements

Being ok with silence.

When I came to work for Jewish Big Brothers Big Sisters, I contemplated which program I could support as a volunteer. Would I spend an hour a week having lunch with a Little Sister at school or weekends heading to Skyzone to burn off energy with a young girl in need of a positive female role model? Would I join a group, a good social opportunity for myself and a match in Friend 2 Friend? I debated, seriously and for a long time. Which program would allow me to have the most impact and feel that I was truly making a difference in an individual’s life?Leora and Melissa

Then, I came across the wait list for the Friend 2 Friend Community Program and saw a former Ramah camper on the list. I immediately found the answer. I would coordinate with the Friend 2 Friend program and work as hard as possible to be matched with Melissa.  Melissa and I had spent many summers together at camp, where I served as staff for over a decade. Summer after summer, I watched her grow up.

Friend 2 Friend serves adults with varying disabilities such as cognitive and developmental disabilities, learning disabilities, mild mental illness, Autism Spectrum Disorders or Traumatic Brain Injury. In the Community program, Friends get together from once to a few times per month and spend time doing activities they mutually enjoy: sharing a meal, visiting a museum, seeing a baseball game, bowling.

Eventually,  Melissa and I were matched. At our first Friend 2 Friend meeting, she came running down the hall screaming “Lee, you’re my sister, my twin sister!” I knew our time together would be special. Without a doubt, I had made the right decision.

Melissa and I have done a few activities since being matched in the program. We’ve enjoyed going for manicures, eating healthy foods and enjoying the occasional dessert. We even danced up at storm at the Friend 2 Friend Chanukah Party.

This month, though, we decided to do something different: An evening of cooking dinner at my house, taking the dog for a walk and painting our nails. We were not going out to do activities, rather staying in and laying low.

In the car ride home from my office, we talked a lot about her recent trip to Israel with her Ramah friends, the weather and all her new lip glosses. I learned about upcoming birthdays, more about her sister’s wedding and events at her group home. And then, there was silence. At first it was a bit awkward. Was I supposed to ask more questions? I had spent the last 20 minutes asking questions with Melissa answering them. So we sat in silence as we drove. While the silence felt awkward to me, it was clear that Melissa was fine. Truthfully, she does not have the social awareness to associate silence with “awkward.” (I could write a whole other blog post about how a little bit more silence in our lives may be a good thing.) She sat there smiling, watching the cars go by and taking in everything on the roads.

Once we got home, we discussed our dinner plans. It was going to be a healthy dinner of chicken fajitas with lots of vegetables. (Melissa pointed out that is must be healthy as there was broccoli in it.) She continued to tell me about all the new, healthy foods she was eating and about all the good food she ate in Israel. And, as we finished eating, we found ourselves in silence again. This time, with the Beach Boy’s, her favorite band, playing in the background. This time the silence was less awkward.

Just as I realized that sometimes it is actually about sitting there and being with each other and not having to say a word, Melissa began to sing along, at the top of her lungs, with the Beach Boys.

– Leora Kimmel Greene, Development Officer