Alan Mikel DeBary, 14, of Galloway Township and Michael Dempsey, of Linwood, hang out together regularly and play miniature golf often.
"We're highly competitive," said Dempsey, a sales manager who spends part of his time in New York City. "When I lose he lets it be known, and when I win, I let it be known."
DeBary, who is being raised by a single mom, is a freshman at Absegami High School, where he will play football.
"I can beat him in golf," DeBary said of Dempsey.
Sounds like a typical big brother/little brother relationship, and in a way, it is.
DeBary and Dempsey have been matched in the Big Brothers Big Sisters of Atlantic and Cape May Counties program for four years. The program's mission is to provide one-to one mentoring to children ages 6 to 18 facing some sort of adversity, said Executive Director Bea Jerkins.
"They may come from single-parent families. Some struggle in school, but they don't have to be struggling in school, they might be struggling socially or economically," Jerkins said. "We strongly feel (having a mentor) changes life for the better, not just for the time they are mentored, but in many cases for the rest of their lives."
Next Sunday DeBary and Dempsey will participate in New Vistas Corporation's 10th Annual Swing for Kids' Sake Mini Golf Tournament & Scavenger Hunt in Ocean City. They have played in every tournament since being matched, Dempsey said. There will also be a Chinese auction and lots of prizes.
About 100 people usually attend, including many other BBBS pairs, agency supporters and volunteers, and people walking by who decide to participate.
For the past 10 years New Vistas, a Northfield-based real estate development company, has been supporting Big Brothers Big Sisters as its main charitable recipient, said owner Michael G. Cohan, of Linwood.
In addition to running the mini golf tournament, which has raised from a low of $15,000 to a high of $28,000 per year, it has also supported the agency's annual Bowl for Kids' Sake, and Cohan has been a member of the board of directors. The company has raised more than $225,000 for the agency in that time, said Cohan.
Cohan believes in the agency's mission, because he was a Big Brother during his college years at Rutgers University in New Brunswick, he said.
"It always stuck with me as something that was positive," he said of his three years as a Big Brother to a young boy who needed a father figure. He connected with the youngster, who was ages 9 to 12 when he mentored him, through weekly activities, he said.
"The two activities I remember most are archery and fishing. They became the format for conversation," Cohan said.
His Marketing Director Amy Stavin, of Linwood, was also a Big Sister about 20 years while she was attending college in Connecticut, she said.
So the company has plenty of personal experience with the program, and knows it's an important way to affect a young person's life.
Big Brothers and Big Sisters of Atlantic and Cape May Counties started in 1965, and is an affiliate of Big Brothers and Big Sisters of America and a United Way Partner Agency. It annually has about 250 children matched in its programs, but is taking a hiatus from making new matches until early in 2013, Jerkins said. The group is currently focusing on reorganizing its four-person professional staff and training its board of directors. She is hoping new volunteers will step up to join the board and help the organization through committee work and long-term planning.
Jerkins has been a Big Sister since 1983, when she was a high school French teacher and started volunteering. She has been executive director of the local group for 18 years, she said.
The agency holds a one-hour introductory session called "Little Moments" each month, Jerkins said, for anyone interested in volunteering in any capacity or enrolling a child. The next session will be 4:30 p.m. Oct. 4 at 450 Tilton Road, Suite 105, Northfield. (Big Brother and Big Sister offices are in Suite 214.) Call
The average time children stay in the program is three years, so DeBary has already surpassed that. He really likes playing mini golf and basketball with Dempsey, but he also appreciates "just hanging out," he said. His mom is raising him on her own, and can't often take him places.
"It's a big help to her, too," he said.
Contact Michelle Brunetti Post:
If You Go
New Vistas Corporation's 10th Annual Swing for Kids' Sake Mini Golf Tournament & Scavenger Hunt for Big Brothers, Big Sisters of Atlantic and Cape May Counties, 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. Sept. 16 at Castaway Cove Seaport Village Golf, between Ninth and 10th streets on the Ocean City Boardwalk. Entry $50 per family/team of four for scavenger hunt and golf; $25 per family/team for scavenger hunt or golf alone. Sponsorships available, call Caron Wells at 609-485-2005.