On November 6, 2008 Sam Genia, then only six-years-old, was matched with Big Brother Jim Fulton through Big Brothers Big Sisters of Southwest Washington. Erin, Sam’s mother, signed him up for the program because she wanted her son – who lived with twin sisters and two female cousins – to get some one-on-one time with a male role model.
“I have a friend who was a Big Brother and I thought it would be great for Sam,” Erin explains. “I have twin girls and was a single mom. I was really busy and I thought he would benefit from a role model that could take him to do stuff I just couldn’t find the time to do. And to do guy stuff – someone for him to talk to about things he didn’t want to with me.”
Sam, now 16-years-old, says he was super excited about the match from the very beginning. “I liked being able to not have to be around all the girls all the time, and to actually be able to talk about stuff that I wouldn’t be able to talk to my mom about, “ he says. “Plus the sports were fun.” Jim was a semi-empty nester, with two grown children, one out of the house, and was missing having younger kids around. Having raised a son, Jim was eager to help another boy live up to his potential.
“I love helping kids reach their potential – to help Sam work towards graduating high school and having a future, it’s fun to be some part of that,” he says.
The two have gotten together just about every week for the past nine years. During that time, Jim and Sam have done a lot of outdoor activities together including rock climbing, biking, boating, hiking and going to things like the Washington State Fair and the Big Brothers Big Sisters picnic. Jim even taught Sam how to ride a bike and drive his motor boat. “He is a natural athlete, very good at everything we did,” says Jim, sounding like a proud Big Brother. Jim said it was important to him to not just take Sam to movies all the time, but to actually take him out to do things he wouldn’t normally get to do.
“Erin is just amazing,” Jim says. “She has school, full-time work and five kids. I don’t know how she juggles it all. Just picking up Sam to take him to my house for grilled cheese sandwiches gave Sam the one-on-one time he needed and it was great to know I was helping Erin as well.” The grilled cheese sandwiches were always one of Sam’s favorites, along with going to the fair and Great Wolf Lodge.
An Encouraging Voice
Jim didn’t just take Sam for fun and games, however. He was also there to help encourage him to do well in school and pushed him to take opportunities that came along. “He would make sure I did my homework,” says Sam. “He was tough in a good way.”
Sometimes, Sam taught Jim something. “I tried to get him to sneak snacks into a Mariner’s game when he was little,” Jim admits laughing. “And Sam said ‘no, no we can’t do that it’s against the rules.’ And then later he told on me to our Big Brothers Big Sister coordinator. So I learned from a nine-year-old to not do that. And he was right.”
Even when he wasn’t with Sam, he was thinking of him and his siblings. “Jim was great about always forwarding me emails and sending me opportunities for the kids, not just Sam, but all of them,” says Erin. Sam is an astounding artist – something that runs in his family – and Jim made sure that he was not wasting that talent. In 2016, Jim found out about the Congressional Art Competition, a nationwide high school art competition where a winner is chosen from each congressional district. He encouraged Sam to enter and he won two years in a row. “This wouldn’t have happened without Jim,” Erin says. Winners are recognized by their district at an annual awards ceremony in Washington, D.C.
“Part of the award includes airfare to Washington D.C. for the ceremony, but you have to pay for your own lodging, food, etc., and we just couldn’t afford it,” says Erin. “Big Brothers Big Sisters Board of Directors gave Sam a scholarship so that we could attend the event. It was incredible.”
Jim, again acting like a proud Big Brother, says it’s all Sam. “He’s a great kid.” But Erin says there were definitely rough patches where she wasn’t so sure Sam’s future was going to turn out as well as it did. “It really does take a village and Jim is definitely part of ours. He went above and beyond in terms of support and being there whenever I needed him.”
Advice for Those New to The Program
If you are thinking of being a Big Brother or Big Sister or signing up your child as a Little, this successful match has some great advice for you.
“The main thing is to be reliable and consistent,” says Jim. “You have to have good communication and you have to do what you say you are going to do. You also have to be flexible and it’s helpful for the parents if you come up with the ideas.”
For the Little, Sam says to make sure you take advantage of opportunities presented to you by your Big, not just enjoying the fun activities, but also the advice he or she gives.
A Farewell, but not a Goodbye
Jim and Sam’s formal match through the program ended this week. Erin and Sam are relocating to Boston, Massachusetts because Erin received a full scholarship to MIT to pursue a Master’s Degree in Art. And while both sides are sad to see the match come to an end, both are equally sure the friendship will last a lifetime. “We can’t imagine not having Jim in our lives,” says Erin.
“I have a friend for life,” Sam says.
If you are interested in being a mentor or signing your child up to be a Little, visit the Big Brothers Big Sisters of Southwest Washington website.