Michael Keeler volunteers with Big Brothers Big Sisters of Flint & Genesee County and was honored with the 2017 Big Brother of the Year award. On December 11, 2018, Gabriella van Rij, founder of the Dare To Be Kind movement, sat down with Michael to ask him about what prompted him to start volunteering with Big Brothers.
The first family that graduated from Family Promise, a program I was involved with, was a single mom with 2 boys. She had become homeless when the father got sick. The father worked at McDonalds, so they didn’t have any health insurance. By the time they went to the hospital, it was too late, and he died shortly after.
Here’s this 30-year-old woman with a 10-year-old and an 11-year-old, and no support, she had been a stay-at-home mom, who had never worked outside of the house. Their car was repossessed and they were evicted from where they were living. Newly homeless families are the individuals that Family Promise tries to help get back into sustainable housing. And hers was the first family to graduate from the Family Promise program.
So I’m helping them move into their new apartment, and someone at one of the churches had donated a bunkbed. But the problem was it came with no hardware to put it together. As I was looking at the pieces, I realized that some of this needed repair. I took the pieces home, because I do a lot of woodworking and I repaired the bed rails and found the necessary hardware to put the bed together again.
A couple days later, I went back to the house and tried to put this thing together in a tiny room. And I had one boy stuck to one leg and another boy stuck to the other. And so I got them to help me put the bed together. I explained to them how to use wrenches to put the nuts and bolts on the bed.
That night, I said to my wife, “Those boys need a man in their life; they are desperate to be around a man.” She said, “You know, maybe that should be you, and you should join Big Brothers.”
So I called the Big Brothers organization, and I told them about the two boys that had graduated from the program I was involved in and said that these two boys needed a Big Brother. They told me to sign them up, and I told them, “Well, I want to be that Big Brother.”
“No, you don’t understand, that’s not how it works,” they said. “We have lots of boys on a waiting list.”
“Here’s the thing,” I said, “I already have a relationship with these boys. I get you have rules, but all the years that I was in the army, there were waivers for things so that we could actually get things done. How about we do it my way, just this once, and I won’t tell anybody.”
“Ok, but you can only have one the first year. If it all works out, you can have the second one next year and then you can work with them both.”
I replied, “It seems to me it would be pretty cruel if I took Joaquin to the movies and left Jadin at home with his mom, twiddling his thumbs.”
“Well, you can take him along sometimes, but you have to spend the majority of your time with Joaquin.”
I thought to myself, OK. I can work with that.
So the first night I was with them, I took Joaquin to Taco Bell, alone. And then every time after, I took them both, because if you count that one night alone, the “majority” of my time had been spent with Joaquin.
You asked what got me started. In the New Testament, we read what the Lord expects of his followers. Feed the hungry, clothe the naked, comfort the sick, and visit the prisoners. In the Bible we see repeatedly that the Lord's followers are expected to help those who need help. To share what we have with those who are not as fortunate. I have been blessed abundantly, so I have a lot to do.
Note: To learn more about the great work Big Brothers Big Sisters Flint & Genesee County is doing, check out their website: http://bbbsflint.org