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Big Brothers share their lives with kids

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Craig Pyle, Lake Oswego, is a relative newcomer to the Big Brother program, but he thoroughly enjoys the relationship he’s already developed with his Little Brother.

At first glance, Craig Pyle and Bob Field appear to have little in common.

Pyle, 49, lives in Lake Oswego, is a senior associate for Bradson Technology and is unmarried. Field, 57, lives in West Linn, works in the mortgage business and has a wife and two older boys. However, a similar passion for volunteering and helping children has drawn them both to the same Big Brothers Big Sisters program.

Big Brothers Big Sisters is a non-profit agency that pairs boys and girls ages 6 to 16 with an adult above the age of 18, allowing the children to benefit from a one-on-one relationship with a mentor outside of his or her family.

The child and adult are matched up based on their similar interests. Families consent for the child to be in the program and both the mentor and child must sign a 'friendship agreement' before the match is official.

Pyle and Field, in their tenth month and sixth year in the program respectively, were motivated in different ways to become a Big Brother.

Pyle saw it as a chance to provide a kid with a fun childhood, replicating what his parents had done for him. Field enjoyed his parenting days with his own children and looked for something to do after they had moved away from home.

'I had a great childhood with great parents. As a kid, I never had any worries,' said Pyle. 'This way, I am able to help kids that might not have a normal childhood.'

Two years ago, Pyle moved to Lake Oswego from California to work for his firm that had just established an office in Portland. Before California, he had lived in Texas. It was there that he started volunteering with kids - at a program called Boys and Girls Country. He volunteered there for the next three years.

Once settled in Lake Oswego, he discovered there was a void in his life that had not been filled since his volunteering days in Texas. One day while at Rolling Hills Community Church, he heard about the chance to work with Big Brothers Big Sisters Columbia Northwest. He jumped at the opportunity.

Several program meetings and a thorough background check later, Pyle had been cleared to work in the program. When he received the call regarding his match three to four weeks after becoming a Big Brother, he found out he was paired up with 12-year-old Max of Portland.

Max, who is half-Caucasian and half-Hispanic, is the oldest child with four siblings. His single mother has been married twice. According to the Big Brothers Big Sisters Northwest Web site, nearly 90 percent of the children who enroll in this program live with a single parent.

Pyle explained that not all kids in the program are 'at risk,' and some just need guidance from a mentor or another close friend.

Big Brothers and Sisters can see their kids as often as they want. Pyle tries to see Max three to four times a month for two to three hours each, while Field allocates time to see his Little Brother once a week for two to four hours.

Immediate bonding is difficult to achieve. For the first couple months, Max did not talk much, which made Pyle wonder if he was doing things right. It was only a matter of time before a sense of trust had been developed and everything became OK.

'He was probably wondering, 'Who is this guy coming to hang out with me?'' said Pyle. 'During the third month with him, he started calling me by my name and wondering what we were doing next. That's the rewarding part of it; it's kind of cool.'

When the two meet up, they usually do half-day activities. Pyle has taken Max to the Evergreen Aviation Museum, the coast, Mount Hood, Multnomah Falls, cooked out and seen movies.

Pyle is enjoying his friendship with Max. He explained that the two are learning from each other all the time.

'Working with him has made me realize how thankful I am for my childhood and that I can make a difference in the life of a child by just dedicating time. I've got a pretty good match,' Pyle said with a smile.

Pyle admits that he will not know the measure of his influence on Max in the future, but hopes that when the boy looks back on these moments, he will remember having some good times.

During a time when Big Brothers Big Sisters is in need of volunteers, one possible deterrent may be spending money for the activities. Pyle and Field both explain that money is not a stopping point to be a mentor.

'You are not there to buy their friendship but to be their friend,' said Field.

Field has been a mentor long before he joined Big Brothers Big Sisters Northwest in 2002. He has had more than 25 years of experience as a father.

After his two sons, Steven, 27 and Michael, 24, simultaneously left for college, graduated and moved out of the house, Field found himself wanting to continue to work with kids. He had always been very active in sports and activities with his sons, coaching and watching them play basketball, soccer and baseball. But he soon found that their departure left a sizable chunk of free time.

Field decided selflessly that it could be spent helping others and he called Big Brothers and inquired about volunteering for them.

During his five-year stint in the program, Field has mentored three boys. A combination of family problems and moving ended Field's match with the first two.

He currently is matched with Joe, a seven-year old boy who lives with his grandmother in Canby. She recently contracted pneumonia, forcing Joe to stay with his mother in Eugene and thus placing a hold on the match that began last fall.

It has been a difficult early childhood for Joe. According to Field, his father died and his mother was temporarily incarcerated. If Joe stays in Eugene, the match could be over. It would come as disappointing news to Field, who has grown attached to the youngster that he was hesitant to initially work with.

'He's got a great personality and is a very loving and warm kid,' said Field.

Until Joe, Field had mentored older kids. He wasn't sure if he wanted to be matched with Joe because of the age difference. He admitted that activities done with a seven year old could be much different than an 11 or 12 year old.

Besides going to animated movies and cutting back on the sports activities, Field has had a relatively smooth age transition with Joe. They have gone to Oaks Park, bike riding and hung out at a local park.

Field has been pleased with his contribution as a Big Brother. After enjoying many happy years with his own children, he could not resist the chance to give back to the community.

'It makes me feel good that I have helped a kid. I felt a real desire to give something back because I have been really fortunate in my life,' said Field.

Both Pyle and Field have no intention on leaving the program. They both admit that the several hours a week needed to spend time with a kid is nothing compared to the benefit the child receives. They are always happy to make time for the program.

Field admits that as long as he has his health, he will continue being a mentor. He is keeping his fingers crossed that Joe will return to Canby.

'I want to continue for the foreseeable future. I hope it is still with Joe. I would like to continue to see him,' said Field.

Pyle and Field encourage others to join the Big Brothers Big Sisters program. They explain that it is rewarding for both the child and the mentor.

'Without sounding cliché, it's true; the reward (comes) back to you. It is worth spending money and time on the weekend to influence a child. That is the reward,' said Pyle.

Field is adamant that mentors must be dedicated to the program because anything less than a full commitment is not fair to the child. He also noted that there is no experience necessary to be in the program.

'There is a tremendous need for mentors. You don't need to be a professional social worker, you just need to be a friend,' said Field.

For more information about how people can join Big Brothers Big Sisters Columbia Northwest, visit the Web site at www.bbbsnorthwest.org or contact the Big Brothers Big Sisters office in Clackamas County at 503-742-2043 or Multnomah County at 503-249-4859.