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Mentoring Impact: BBBS men, teen form lifelong bonds

FORT WAYNE, Ind. (ABC21) – “As an advocator, a current ‘Big’, and an alumni ‘Little’ myself, I know what it’s like for kids not to just need a mentor, but to really deserve that mentor,” Donnevin Wolfe said on stage in July.

Wolfe, a community development coordinator for Big Brothers Big Sisters of Northeast Indiana, is a natural for the job.

In fact, he tells ABC21, he didn’t even apply or pursue the career.

Though Wolfe claims he’s an introvert, his ability to speak so well on the program’s impact, often thrusts him center stage, and is the very reason the non-profit offered him a role.

You see, Wolfe grew up within the program, and has modeled how he wants to live his life, after the very man he was matched with.

They lost contact after Wolfe entered his teenage years and his former ‘Big’ moved out of state, but the day Wolfe turned 18, he applied to be a ‘Match’ himself.

Little did he know, he would find his story intertwined with two other men, who now have lifelong bonds.

Meet Maurice Bryant

For Maurice Bryant, it all started with a TV commercial.

He saw an advertisement for the Big Brothers Big Sisters program as a child, and immediately asked his mother to sign him up.

Now, he’s entering high school, still maintaining a friendship with the man he was matched with 7 years ago.

“He’s a good person. He’s respectful. He cares about people. He tries to lead them to do the right things, and stuff,” Bryant explains, “It’s like he’s my brother – my actual brother”.

Bryant sees his mentor several times a month, often going to him for advice.

“I like to watch movies, I like to go out to eat, do some fun activities. I like to do a lot,” Bryant says, “Every time we’re in the car, I ask him questions, about life and stuff.”

The ninth-grader speaks proudly of his experience with BBBS, “If you get a big brother or sister, they will change your life.”

Across State LinesDon Zawlocki’s Story

Don Zawlocki volunteered for Big Brothers Big Sisters during his time spent in Indiana.

Several years ago, he retired, moving to North Carolina with his wife and son.

Earlier this summer, a former “Little” reached out to reconnect with Zawlocki.

“It was kind of hard to recall the things that we did,” Zawlocki told ABC21 over the phone, “those little things start to come back now in my memory. When he told me what a major impact that I had on his life… it really did floor me.”

Zawlocki says his matches were normally from the intercity, often exposed to violence and bad influences at a young age.

He never tried to pressure them to talk about what they saw on a daily basis, rather chose to give them attention, have fun, and accept them as part of his family.

“I don’t really believe that we shared talking about what it was like for him to live,” Zawlocki says, “When you visit you want to take that time and share the relationship with him, and make it as positive experience as it can be.”

“I was the assistant coach at Grace College. I would take him to games. We would go out to eat a lot and go to movies, things of that nature” he explains, “You don’t realize the little things you do, how they impact kids.”

The child he mentored, is now a man.

“He’s such a great kid. He always had a smile on his face. Really a joy to be around,” weeks into talking to his former “Little”, Zawlocki remains in awe, “We even talked together today. He sent me pictures of his wedding pictures.”

Coming Full Circle: Donnevin Wolfe Meets His Mentor

Donnevin Wolfe speaks at various businesses, churches, and organizations across the area, with hopes of recruiting volunteers to an organization he says, changed his life.

“I was a big when I turned 18. That’s when I actually called BBBS up and say ‘Hey, I kind of want to become a mentor. What’s that process like?’,” Wolfe told us, “You’re talking matching up an 18-year-old kid and a 7-year-old kid. I don’t know what a mentor is being like. I just know what I experienced.”

It’s been 7 years since that day.

“That kid has grown so much,” Wolfe says he’s helping his ‘Little’ through adulthood now, “The next step is getting him a library card, now we’re talking about getting him a license. It’s different from, ‘Hey, let’s go play putt-putt’ to just getting dinner and talking about what my next steps are as an adult.”

“He’ll always aske questions. He started asking personal questions like what my salary is, what my credit score is – I had to say, ‘Slow your roll, kid’,” Wolfe says laughing.

Determined to be a positive influence to others in life, Wolfe credits his childhood, which he admits was rough at times.

“Growing up, you know I’ve seen things kids shouldn’t have seen,” Wolfe describes some of those tragic moments, “I seen ladies getting stabbed with butcher knives. I’ve seen a guy get shot in his eye and kneecap. I saw SWAT knock in our next door neighbors and drag them out. Wake up to a Sunday morning and everybody’s car is spray painted.”

All those instances Wolfe says, he witnessed as a young boy.

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For several years in his childhood, he had a ‘match’ who lived the type of life, he could only dream of living one day.

“Having a mentor through that was very helpful to open up my eyes and you know, ‘Okay, you have to get your stuff together and have yourself get on the right path,” Wolfe says.

His mentor exposed him to experiences he would’ve never had the opportunity to try.

In fact, his mentor tells ABC21, his mother forced him to go on a trip he tried to back out on: camping.

It turns out, it became one of his fondest memories, “He took me camping, which was a very different experience. Literally, it was Lake Superior and those biting flies were huge! I remember I was getting lit up by them!”

“Even as an adult I would go camping… just from that experience because I enjoyed it so much,” Wolfe said looking back.

As Wolfe grew into his teenage years, he left the program and lost touch with his former ‘Big’.

Unable to share just how much of a difference his mentorship played in Donnevin’s work, marriage, and faith.

This summer, he finally reached out to him over 10 years later.

“I text him and said, ‘Hey, this is your little brother Donovan. If you remember me I would love to have a phone call with you,” Wolfe says, “After that phone call he prayed with me, and we’ve just been texting and in contact ever since.”

Weeks later, they were finally reunited with Donnevin’s ‘Little’ in tow.

You see, over a decade ago, Don Zawlocki mentored Donnevin Wolfe, and for the past 7 years, Wolfe has been a friend and ‘Brother’ to Maurice Bryant.

And a warm, July evening, three generations of Big Brothers Big Sisters participants sat down for dinner, clearly demonstrating the lifelong bonds they’ve built through mentorship, friendship, and the simple act of donating their time.

Bryant shared with us, a final message, “I’ll say thank-you for making me a little. If I wasn’t ever a little I don’t know what I would do. Donnevin changed me a lot. New words, school, life. Other people would never do that.”

“Sometimes we think its only the little brother that’s the only one that receives out of this relationship but I can tell you what – the friendship and bonds that I have built with my little brothers will last me a lifetime,” Zawlocki says.

Wolfe, now living the life he always dreamed, left us with this: “I know that he [Zawlocki] always wondered what impact he actually had, being matched up with me for that time frame. I just told him, look man, I went to college, I got married, and I’m also a big brother to another kid who’ve I’ve been matched up with for seven years. You tell me if that’s impactful or not.”

For More Information on BBBS:

If you’re interested in Big Brothers Big Sisters of Northeast Indiana, you can learn more about volunteering here, or signing up your child here.

Wolfe says the program is in desperate need of ‘Bigs’, either brothers, sisters, or couples, to help bridge the gap of hundreds of kids left without ‘matches’.

The non-profit also accepts monetary donations.

This year, in honor of the BBBS co-founder’s 90th birthday, Do It Best is matching donations up to $90,000 by Oct. 18.

Another popular fundraiser is the Brad Miller Gala, Auction, and Golf Outing, scheduled over August 24-26 this year.

Donnevin Wolfe explains how he believes anybody can change the life of a child:

Production Note: ABC21 partnered with affiliate WTVD ABC11 in Fayetteville, North Carolina to conduct Don Zawlocki’s interview. A special thanks to assignment manager Tom Donahue and photographer Jeremy Baker for making part of this story possible.

Daniel Beals

Daniel Beals is an award-winning journalist and photographer who started his career at ABC21. He is a Michigan native and graduate of Grand Valley State University. Daniel welcomes any story idea. Feel free to reach out:

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