Editor's note: This is national Thank Your Mentor Day.
I grew up in Wichita with my mother and two older brothers. We lived in a small house, and my mother worked two jobs to support us. My father was never in the picture, and we received no financial assistance from him.
With my mother working so hard, it gave my brothers and me more time alone to get into trouble. So she enrolled us in the Big Brothers Big Sisters program more than 25 years ago.
Through that program I met my Big Brother, Eric. Eric and I were matched in the program for more than 10 years. Eric encouraged me and believed that with hard work I could succeed at anything. He had a huge impact on my life.
At the young age of 5, I desperately needed a positive male figure in my life. Being my Big Brother wasn't so much about being my child psychologist; it was more about the time and effort he took out of his life to invest a little in mine. We played sports and saw movies, and he even took me with him on family vacations.
Eric was very influential about my decision to pursue a higher education. I knew college was a must for me if I wanted more for myself and my future. Eric encouraged me to attend college right after high school. I attended the University of Kansas and pursued a degree in chemical engineering. During my time in college, Eric and I kept in touch, and he was always available for advice.
I have had many difficult experiences in my life, but Eric has been there to help me through them all. As they say, when God closes one door, He opens a window. I feel blessed that Eric is a part of my life, and I believe that God opened up a window for me with Eric.
I am now a husband and father and have two beautiful little girls, Hannah and Gracyn. I also realize now how difficult being a father can be. Thanks to Eric, I have a better idea of how to be a good father and husband. My goal is to give them the best in life that I can.
I am very grateful to Eric and the Big Brothers Big Sisters program and the positive work they do every day. I encourage anyone reading this to volunteer and help change a child's life. The program does more than you can imagine for young children. I know it did for me.— Gary Tomes, Wichita
I had a good father, but I also came from a broken home. I knew what it was like to have a father, but I also knew what it was like to not have a father. A friend of mine encouraged me to become a Big Brother to help someone who had a similar childhood to my own. I looked into it and took the plunge more than 25 years ago. I haven't regretted it since.
I have had two successes in my life. One was the choice of the woman to be my wife and the other was the choice of my Little Brother. My Little Brother, Gary, has made me so proud and has given me something to brag about. He was All-City middle linebacker for Wichita East High School. He led its baseball team in home runs. He was captain of the yell team.
Can I take the credit? No way. But I hope that spending a little time with Gary once a week as he was growing up helped make a difference in his life. I was Gary's opportunity to see another world. We went out for meals, went to ballgames, movies, camping and, yes, I even recruited his help washing my truck and doing the housecleaning a few times.
Gary and I have been through many of life's experiences together — graduations, marriages, births and family illnesses. I have been there for him but he was there for me as well. He is an amazing young man, and I am glad to be a part of his life. Thank you to Big Brothers Big Sisters for making matches like ours happen every day. You are changing not only the lives of the "Littles" but the "Bigs" as well. —Eric Schoeffler, Wichita