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A Big commitment; couple becomes mentors just before wedding, each with their own little

A Big commitment

Couple becomes mentors just before wedding, each with their own Little

Back in 2007 when Tiffany Overbeek and Bob Gazi were engaged, they discussed ways they might give back to the community. They decided to become Bigs, each with their own Little, to provide friendship and support and to allow their Littles to try new things and explore areas of interest. They were each matched that September just weeks before their wedding. Since then, they have spent several hours each month with their respective Littles and long ago surpassed the one-year commitment asked of Bigs.

People change over time and so do match relationships. Tiffany’s Little Sister Akia was 11 when they met. As she grew more comfortable, Akia sometimes texted Tiffany when she felt stressed about things at home or at school. A personal trainer, Tiffany would pick Akia up and they’d go to the gym and play basketball to relieve stress. These days they still see each other regularly and shop, go out to eat, bake, have pajama parties and watch movies. Akia still texts Tiffany but now it might be about a recipe she wants them to try out. It’s a simple thing, yet it shows Tiffany that Akia is thinking about her even when they’re not together.

When Akia had a baby 18 months ago, Tiffany was with her through everything: she took her to every medical appointment, threw her a baby shower, and after the baby was born she helped Akia figure out how to be a mom and still go back to school. Akia, now 17, will be graduating from Kalamazoo’s Loy Norrix High School in June and plans to go to college. At last report she hopes to become a photojournalist. She says she feels like part of Tiffany’s family. Tiffany agrees Akia is family and says of the match, “I think I’m supposed to mentor her, but she’s taught me a lot.”

Noah was a soft-spoken, very shy 8 year old when he and Bob were matched. Bob has been a consistent role model ever since, not missing a beat even when Noah and his mom moved from Kalamazoo to Plainwell. Typical activities include fishing, four-wheeling and snowmobiling; playing sports and video games together; and sometimes just hanging out at Bob’s and Tiffany’s house. Consensus among Tiffany, Bob, Noah, and Noah’s mom Jane is that Big and Little are two peas in a pod and act like real brothers. They even share the same goofy sense of humor!

Noah is now a freshman at Plainwell High School. He played football this past fall, is on the baseball team and hopes to take driver’s training soon. He helps prepare for the Halloween party each year and is often one of the volunteers waiting to scare visitors in the Haunted Barn.

When asked what it has meant to him to be a Big Brother, Bob responded, “You start out – you don’t know each other that well, so you find some things you both like to do and then before long you realize this child has become part of your life.” There is still a note of wonder in his voice as he talks about the bond that’s developed between him and Noah. He recalls teasing Noah once a couple years ago, “You know, once you get to a certain age you can’t be a Little anymore.” He said Noah “right away started tearing up, and I had to tell him I was just kidding, that we’d still be together.”

What advice would they give to those who are considering becoming Bigs? “People always tell me, ‘I’ve been thinking about it,’ ” says Tiffany, and she tells them, “Just do it. It’s only a couple of hours every other week. You just have to make time to do it.” Bob says, “It does require commitment but it’s worth it.”

They aren’t the only ones who believe it’s worth it. Noah’s mom Jane says he has gained a lot more confidence from spending time with Bob and has tried new things he probably wouldn’t otherwise have had a chance to do. Now that Noah is a teenager and is playing two sports it’s a bit harder to coordinate schedules; still, Jane says Big and Little get together a couple of times every month and adds, “Noah values every minute with Bob.” She says Bob has even driven to Plainwell for some of Noah’s games despite working full time at Pfizer and going back to school himself. Jane is amazed at Bob’s and Tiffany’s commitment to their Littles and says, “I consider them family.” She wrote a note to Big Brothers Big Sisters a few years ago and says her feelings are still the same:

We feel very blessed to have Bob in our lives. Noah and Bob are a perfect match. Noah respects Bob and really enjoys sending time with him. It is great to see Noah bonding with Bob and having this male relationship. Bob is a great role model for Noah and I cannot express, to Bob or to the Big Brothers Big Sisters organization, enough gratitude for this program and the wonderful impact it is having on my son. Words are not enough, but they are all I have. Thank you. ~ Jane