Newark, Ohio, 11 September 2014 | 03:00 PM America/Chicago Local Program Makes a Big Impact The power of role models If you asked Kevin Watkins one word he would use to describe himself five years ago, he would say “shy”. When Kevin met his “Big Brother”, State Farm Auto Estimatics Inspector, Tom Headley, he was 14 years old. The then 8th grader, was a self-described tall, skinny kid…and very shy. In 2009, a State Farm office in Newark, OH launched “State Farm Diplomats” in partnership with Big Brothers/Big Sisters of Licking and Perry Counties. Employees became “Big Brothers” to middle-school aged children, maintaining the relationship until the “Little” graduated from high school. Tom was quick to volunteer. Fast forward five years, and Kevin recently graduated high school and completed a certificate in Firefighting/Emergency Medical Services! First Impressions and Life Lessons At first, Kevin and Tom, would walk around town or go out to eat. Over time, Tom introduced Kevin to different environments. Kevin recalls going to the Amish country and being introduced to the “motorcycle community.” When Kevin expressed an interest in purchasing a bicycle that was well out of his price range, Tom used the opportunity to help Kevin research options. He then put Kevin to work, cutting a lot of grass, to pay for his bike. Tom paid for the bike, but Kevin worked to pay for it. As Kevin puts it, “Two of Tom’s favorite saying are ‘Listen to me boy when I’m a talkin’ to ya” and ‘ya gotta work for what ya get’.” Kevin is no stranger to hard work. Throughout high school, he worked on a farm, caring for more than 200 dairy cattle. Kevin also earned his helicopter landing license, he is a Jr. Firefighter with the Newton Township Fire Department), and he is certified in CPR and First Aid. Kevin now works at Bayer in the Fabrication and Welding area. He is currently working to earn his Welding Certification. All those years of sanding doors, cutting grass and milking cows have led to a hands-on career, and as Kevin says, “give me something to put my hands on and I’ll do it.” A Match Made In…Newark Tom and his wife, Tina, fully embrace the Big Brothers/Big Sisters program, even though things didn’t always go according to plan. As Kevin got older, his work schedule got busier. It became more and more challenging to connect with his Big Brother. According to Tara Shannon, Match Support Specialist with Big Brother/ Big Sister, “we were going to close the match.” Tom dug in his heels and refused to let this happen, insisting they keep the match open. It’s A Family Affair Tom and Tina made the Big Brother/Little Brother experience a family affair. When the couple couldn’t attend Kevin’s high school graduation party, Tina’s parents went instead.. Without Big Brothers/Big Sisters, Kevin says his life would have taken a different course. “I would have hung with a different crowd, and probably wouldn’t have graduated,” Kevin shared. He could very easily have made the decision to drop out of school to work, but Tom and Tina wouldn’t let that happen. With their encouragement, Kevin stayed in school. Tom told Kevin, “You have to stay in school and graduate if you ever want to make anything of your life.” Paying It Forward Even though the formal aspect of Tom and Kevin’s match has ended, their relationship continues. Following in Tom’s footsteps, Kevin is now a Big Brother to a six-year-old named Jackson. Remaining involved with the Big Brothers/Big Sisters program, Tom and Tina matched with Jackson’s younger brother Gabe. A third brother, nine-year-old Ayden, also has a Big Brother, and when his big can’t make it to events and activities, Tina steps in. Most recently, this lively group participated in the Annual Miniature Indoor Golf Open challenge which raises money for the local Red Cross disaster relief efforts. The boys and their “Bigs” spent the afternoon putting around the course. What began six years ago as a way to encourage a young man to stay in school and graduate has grown into something that will change the life of not one, but four young people forever.