When Eric Reich and Seamus McIntyre were first matched with each other for Big Brothers Big Sisters of Atlantic and Cape May Counties, their meeting was a little awkward.
The two took a walk around McIntyre’s neighborhood in Somers Point to get to know each other. It didn’t take long to discover they each had something to offer the other: Reich, the big brother, wanted to learn chess. McIntyre was really good at it. He wanted to go surfing, something Reich had been doing since he was a kid.
That was six years ago. McIntyre is now 17 and considers Reich his best friend. He trusts Reich so much that on Saturday afternoon the two plan to rappel down the side of the Sheraton Hotel in Atlantic City together.
The event, called Over the Edge, is a fundraiser for Big Brothers Big Sisters.
Participants raise money through donations, and get a chance to rappel from a building. For the Atlantic City event, donors had to raise at least $1,000. So far, the event has raised more than $86,000.
The trust that’s evident between Reich and McIntyre didn’t happen overnight.
“We were both really shy. We didn’t really know what to do that first day,” said Reich, 45, chairman of Big Brothers Big Sisters of Atlantic and Cape May Counties.
They bonded over simple things: bowling, after grabbing bagel sandwiches; talking about the Phillies. Over the years, they have seen more than 50 movies together and have attended numerous baseball games.
McIntyre remembers those games as when the two became close and started having deep conversations about their lives.
“Over time, we got closer, and I got more comfortable around him,” McIntyre said. “We are honestly best friends, and he’s basically the father I never had.”
McIntyre said he had never had a role model. That changed as his relationship with Reich grew.
“I also grew more as a person in a way,” McIntyre said.
For Reich, there were extensive background checks before he could become a Big Brother. The organization still does follow ups. Every match is monitored. Each match costs the organization $1,400, which events like Saturday’s fundraiser help pay for.
Reich remembers McIntyre six years ago as a somewhat frustrated pre-teen who wasn’t doing great in school but who had dreams of a higher education. Reich told him he believed in him and that he could accomplish anything with education.
Reich has been involved with the Big Brother Big Sister organization for eight years. He has been on the board for five years. He was appointed chairman this year.
Whether it’s a Phillies game or just picking up groceries, you have to be there when you say you will, Reich said.
“Some people think, ‘I’m not adequate enough’ or ‘I don’t bring enough to the table.’ That’s not true. These kids need guidance of any kind,” Reich said. “Life experience is all you need to be a big. And everyone on Earth can provide that.”
And Reich said he has learned from McIntyre. In fact, he said, McIntyre has made him a better parent to his own three children.
“You get caught up in life and problems, and you meet someone and you learn that the problems you’re complaining about aren’t necessarily really problems,” Reich said.
Reich said that McIntyre’s grades have gone up at Mainland Regional High School. He plans to get straight A’s this school year and attend film school.
McIntyre can stay in the program until he turns 18 next year, but the two don’t plan to grow apart. What best friends would do that?
“Reality is that he has become a part of my family, and it won’t have an effect on my relationship with him. You almost forget that the Big Brother is a part of it now,” Reich said.
McIntyre is grateful that he was with Reich. And he urged other young people to consider the Big Brothers Big Sisters program.
“I would recommend it to any child who is missing a parent or just needs someone to look up to: an idol,” he said.
For the moment, McIntyre and Reich are both thinking about climbing down the Sheraton.
The two recently drove to Atlantic City to take a look at the 179-foot facade. McIntyre said he isn’t too nervous. He’s looking forward to it.
“I can say I’m a little nervous about it,” Reich said. About McIntyre, though, he added, “He’s a pretty tough guy. He’ll pretty much do anything.”
Over the Edge
What: Fundraiser by Big Brothers Big Sisters of Atlantic and Cape May Counties
When: 9 a.m.- 5p.m. Saturday
Where: Sheraton Atlantic City Convention Center Hotel