Jim Sanford and Andy Graham live entirely different lives. Sanford is a manager of the horseback riding program at Blackberry Farm and a Boy Scout leader. Andy is a 16-year-old student at Heritage High School.
But at least once a week, they spend time with one another as part of a partnership between Big Brothers Big Sisters and the Boy Scouts of America.
They go fly-fishing, hiking and go to Civil Air Patrol meetings.
Spend a few minutes with them, however, and it’s quickly evident that what they probably enjoy most is the friendly give-and-take between friends. And, they enjoy giving each another a hard time.
Their chemistry was evident from their first meeting when a Big Brother/ Big Sister representative introduced them. “Andy and I got along instantly,” Sanford said, to which Andy added, “I was thinking, ‘Oh my God,’ when he walked through door. He was tall.’”
“Thinking ‘tall and extremely good-looking,’ “ Sanford said with a laugh.
“No,” Andy shot back. “The good-looking part you added.”
Sanford said he and his new little brother have a lot of things in common. “We never let facts get in the way of a good story, and we love to fish,” he said.
The Boy Scouts/Big Brothers Big Sisters local partnership grew out of a need identified by United Way of Blount County volunteers. Aaron Killian, communications and marketing coordinator with United Way of Blount County, credited Judith Craw, a United Way fund distribution panel member, with recognizing the need and opportunity for a partnership.
Basically, it came down to two needs in each organization: Big Brothers Big Sisters needed more big brothers; the Boy Scouts needed to reach a different demographic from the majority of their scouts and needed more racial diversity.
When these organizations did their presentations for the United Way panels, they each talked about strengths, weaknesses and opportunities, Killian said. Craw and another volunteer noticed there is a need that could be filled if the two organizations partnered, Killian said.
“Judith Craw and Jean Williamson, vice president of Community Impact, and Ken Cooper said let’s get the two organizations together. They brought representatives from both and said, ‘Ok, how do we make this work?’ “ Killian said. “This match has been a year in the making.”
Killian said the question became how would they team a Big Brother/Little Brother and a Boy Scout leaders. Myra Yeatman, executive director of Big Brothers Big Sisters of East Tennessee, and Greg Leitch, field director with Boy Scouts of America Great Smoky Mountain Council, worked on logistics and had several meetings before bringing it to volunteers of the organizations, he said.
“They also looked at waiting list for little brothers. They have extensive waiting list. They took the three who were most in need of a Big Brother and presented it to Jim Sanford. He looked at the three and asked about their stories,” Killian said. “When he heard Andy’s story he said, ‘He’s 15 years old. He could really use some guidance, a positive influence. I want to work with that boy.’”
Killian said Yeatman said to it was like a weight lifted off her shoulders because older little brothers are difficult to match.
“The typical Big Brother wants to work with younger kids. It’s harder to match adolescents. It’s like adoption, some people may not be up for the challenge. Jim was ready for that challenge,” Killian said. “Jim stepped up and went well above and beyond the expectations the organization has for its volunteers.”
Craw said the two organizations had needs that the other could help fulfill. “We saw these two organizations and saw, if they worked together, they could help one another achieve their goals and benefit the kids. That’s how it came about,” she said.
Killian said Andy needed a strong male role model in his life and Sanford provided that. “I could tell in a matter of a few weeks a bond had been forged that no one or nothing could break,” he said. “Now we’re five months into this match, and we know it’s working.”
It didn’t hurt that Sanford is a “Ford” man, Sanford said. “He saw my Ford pickup and got his Ford hat and said, ‘This is my Ford hat,’” Sanford said. “The first thing we did was go to a McDonalds. We ate there for an hour, and Andy had something to say about every vehicle that drove in. He knows a lot about cars. He’s got a definite side on that Ford/Chevy issue.”
Sanford said he and Andy hold each other accountable in a humorous way. “We keep each other honest,” Sanford said.
Sanford said he has enjoyed getting to know Andy through the partnership between the Boy Scouts of America and Big Brothers Big Sisters. “I’ve gotten so much out of this relationship because I can see a change in Andy. I talk with his grandmother, and she affirms that he’s doing better. That does a lot for me. It’s a very rewarding experience to be able to do something like this, plus it’s fun. We ride horses, camp and fish. How hard is that? Andy is going to expect me to do things I’ve never done. We’re going to Bristol to see a NASCAR race,” he said.
Sanford said he and Andy also are becoming active in the Civil Air Patrol at McGhee Tyson Airport because Andy is considering a career in the Air Force as either a pilot or an airplane mechanic.
Andy said the partnership has helped him open up to others. “I’m actually talking more to people I don’t know,” he said.
The training and experience Jim is receiving by working with Andy is also helping Jim in his role with the Boy Scouts. In the future, there may be possibilities that children from Big Brothers Big Sisters can be worked into existing scout troops.
Sanford said what is different about the opportunity with Big Brothers Big Sisters is the direct one-on-one relationship that is built. “I’ve been a Scout leader 10 years and still get a lot of satisfaction. My son and I have been involved in that 10 years. But with Big Brothers Big Sisters, it’s one-on-one,” he said. “Instead of working with a group you’re with just one; for some reason I just find that very satisfying.”
Andy, a teen of few words, summed up how the relationship has changed him. “It’s just helped me a lot,” he said.
Killian said there are other opportunities for adults to help Little Brothers like Andy. “What they really need are strong male volunteers willing to work with Boy Scouts and work with Big Brothers Big Sisters to address the need,” he said.
Big Brothers Big Sisters of East Tennessee currently serves 564 children through three mentoring programs - school-based, community-based and Amachi. In school-based mentoring, volunteers visit with children in school for a half hour or more each week. The community-based program provides children in the community time with a mentor for at least six hours per month. Through Amachi partnerships, faith-based organizations provide mentors for children whose parents are incarcerated.
To get involved with Big Brothers and Big Sisters, contact Yeatman by phone at 865-983-6713 or on the web at firstname.lastname@example.org.
As for Andy and Jim, they’re spending the summer outside. “We don’t have any specific plans lined up,” he said recently. “It’s primarily a summer focused around hiking in the mountains, fishing and camping.”
Sanford said Andy usually gets the better of him when they’re fish. “He humiliates me most days when it comes to fishing,” Sanford said. “I’ve got broad shoulders.”
And a big heart.