You don't have to be young and hip to be a Big Brother or a Big Sister.
Well ... maybe sort of hip would be good.
For six years, 15-year-old Matthew has been the Little Brother of Mary Hamilton and Jack White, a Big Couple.
Hamilton is 69 and White is 81.
Are they too old?
No, said Jim Frederick, director of marketing and recruitment for Big Brothers Big Sisters of the Midlands.
That's a common misconception, he said. “Actually, many of our most successful matches are with baby boomers or empty nesters.”
Frederick said the organization welcomes volunteers of any age. Right now there are more than 120 kids on the waiting list for a Big Brother, Big Sister or Big Couple.
White and Hamilton were invited to meet Big Brothers Big Sisters executives at a presentation for potential donors. What they learned at that meeting left them wanting to give more than money. They applied to be a volunteer Big Couple.
White is retired; Hamilton works part time at the University of Nebraska at Omaha's School of Public Administration.
Age-wise they are the oldest couple currently on the local Big Brothers Big Sisters roster.
Young can be a state of mind, and hip — well, Hamilton and White like to think they're hip.
They and Matthew laughed while discussing age on a recent Sunday afternoon when the teen was visiting the couple's home on the Elkhorn River.
Matthew admits he might have thought they were old when he first met them, but that didn't last long.
White said the couple have taken their obligations to Matthew seriously.
Over the years, they have mixed in serious mentoring with their fun outings, trying to expose Matthew to different careers and introducing him to interesting people in those fields. He met a soybean farmer, a flying instructor (who took Matthew up in a plane) and a banker at First National Bank. The three of them visited a small manufacturing plant in Florence and the OPPD coal-fired plant in north Omaha. He shadowed a veterinarian and next up is a restaurant chef.
There has been no shortage of fun outings too. They go out to eat. In the beginning it was always a fast-food place. “I eat salads now,” Matthew said with a little pride in his voice.
“Now we go to restaurants,” White added.
They play miniature golf, see movies, go bowling, enjoy board games, attend sporting events or simply go out for ice cream.
One experience has had an unexpected outcome for Matthew. The couple took him to a horseback riding lesson. It was such a success that this year Matthew was able to attend horse riding camp in early July on a scholarship at the American Legacy Complex. White and Hamilton made sure he got there and home each day. Matthew did so well that he was invited back to be a junior counselor at two other camp sessions.
“It was nice to have a male as a counselor, so the boy campers have someone to look up to,” said Dorothy Turley, owner of the stable and camp director.
“It's like he's been around (horses) all his life. He's a natural,” said Chris Haag, Turley's daughter. “He really bonded with Babycakes,” one of the horses boarded at the stable.
He helped Haag's family get ready to show horses at the county fair recently and has been invited to work at the stable on weekends — and get paid for it. The Haags will provide transportation.
Hamilton and White said Matthew has had an influence on their lives — but not in one area. Matthew is a Texas football fan while the couple are Cornhusker faithful. They brought him a souvenir Texas T-shirt from a trip to Austin with a proviso: “Do not wear it with us.”
Matthew looks forward to all their outings, but his favorite times with them are visits to the White-Hamilton home. He said it feels like being out in the country, and he loves playing with their dogs, Cleo and Hector.
The couple, who were the 2012 Big Couple of the Year, have made a big impression on Matthew. In his nominating letter, Matthew wrote: “They always treat me with respect and make me feel special. ... They always have fun things planned for us to do. They always check first to see if I'm interested in it. I am always interested, even if it sounds boring. I have never been disappointed in the things we do together.”
Another successful pairing is baby boomers Chuck and Pam Nelson with Delon. He is 60 and works for First National Bank; she is 58 and a wellness coordinator at Charles Drew Health Center.
The couple say their three years as a Big Couple to Delon have been rewarding.
They moved to west Omaha from Atlanta, leaving behind their college-age children. Being an empty nester wasn't all it was cracked up to be, Pam Nelson said by phone as she and Chuck recently drove between Pittsburgh and Philadelphia on vacation.
“I'll be honest, the move to Omaha was hard,” she said. “We're so thankful for Delon,” who is 12.
“I highly recommend it to all empty nesters. Giving back is good for the soul,” she said, adding: “I actually think we're getting more out of it than Delon.”
The Nelsons said Delon thinks of them more as friends than adults or parents. It makes it easier for him to talk to them about all kinds of things. He also has introduced them to new things like go-karts and haunted houses. He texts them to see what they are doing when they travel.
Nelson said she and her husband hope to stay connected with Delon until he goes to college.
They join White and Hamilton in urging possible volunteers not to let age be a factor. “We have such a great time,” Hamilton said.
“The picture you have of a Big Brother is someone throwing a baseball back and forth to a kid,” White said. “But there are so many other things to do.”