With the holiday season in full swing, the Siena Heights University men's basketball team is taking an active role in sharing the gift of friendship with children from around the community
(Note: This article appeared in the Nov. 28 edition of the Adrian Daily Telegram. Reprinted with permission.)
Saints shaping lives
By Ed Patino
Daily Telegram Sports Writer
Siena Heights men's basketball players become Big Brothers.
Telegram photo by Linda Campbell - First-year Siena Heights men's basketball coach George Evjen talks with Adrian's E.J. Ochoa (front left) during a pizza party last month at the Siena Heights Fieldhouse for members of the team and children from around the community. The team has partnered with Big Brothers/Big Sisters this season.
ADRIAN - With the holiday season in full swing, the Siena Heights University men's basketball team is taking an active role in sharing the gift of friendship with children from around the community.
The Saints have teamed up with Big Brothers/Big Sisters of Lenawee County this season to provide area youths with a friend and role model.
When first-year Siena Heights coach George Evjen took over the basketball job last summer, he wanted his team to become active in the community. The Saints approached Big Brothers/Big Sisters during the first weeks of the fall semester about establishing a partnership.
“I wanted us to get involved, and it was a good fit,” Evjen said. “Our staff has done a good job developing people, and we have good kids. The younger kids support us and give more responsibility to the team.”
Big Brothers/Big Sisters representative Katie Hammond said that having the Saints on board is a boost to the program and is excited about the team's role with area youths.
“We're always looking for partners in the community, and Siena Heights has good mentors involved in its basketball program,” Hammond said. “This is a great opportunity for the kids to go watch a game and show their support.”
Siena Heights is making it easier for kids to get to games this season. The Saints, along with Big Brothers/Big Sisters board members are selling season passes to children in the program for $20. The passes allow admission to any Saints game, varsity and junior varsity, during this season. The passes can be used multiple times.
Children are also welcome to attend practices. Following the Nov. 20 practice, the Siena Heights men's basketball team held “Pizza with the Players,” with a group of area children having dinner with the team at the Siena Heights Fieldhouse.
“It feels good that I get to be a role model and do something for the community,” senior forward DeMarcus Berry said. “We know how important it is to have role models, and we're enthused to help the kids in our community.”
Being a mentor is nothing new for Berry, who has younger siblings at home.
As the older brother, Berry said he has taught his siblings how to handle themselves in public and steered them away from trouble. Berry also feels that being involved with Big Brothers/Big Sisters will help the Saints bond as a team.
Two Saints players have been involved with Big Brothers/Big Sisters before. Freshman Curtis Stephens went through the program first as a “little” and now has a “big.” Classmate Terry Shelton has been a Big Brother in the past. Both are excited to be involved once again.
“I want to show what my big brother taught me to my little brother and help him with different things,” Stephens said. “People need a Big to give love and be a friend to someone less fortunate, and this is a way to give something back.”
Along with bringing children to games, the players will also do more traditional activities with their new friends, such as playing video games, playing cards, watching television and participating in various athletic activities.
“For me, it's a chance to relate to someone who has no one to talk to,” Shelton said. “I've always had brothers who were older then me, so now I can give that opportunity to someone else.”
The “littles” range from age 6 to seniors in high school, while “bigs” range from ages 17 to 85. According to Hammond, there are usually more boys than girls on the waiting list for a mentor and a greater need for male-to-male matches. This makes the Siena Heights men's basketball team an even better fit.
“We want the players to give back to the program with how much they can teach the littles,” Hammond said. “The kids involved in the program can look at the players and say that could be them someday.”
Siena Heights is not the only school in the county taking an active role with Big Brothers/Big Sisters. About 25 percent of the bigs come from either Siena Heights, Adrian College or Jackson Community College. Financial support also comes from local businesses such has Brazeway, United Bank & Trust and Kemner-Iott.
Every mentor and business is screened through the Big Brothers/Big Sisters professional office before they can participate.
“It's amazing the amount of kids that need mentors, and exposure of the youth programs is a good thing,” Hammond said.
Traditionally, the mentors meet with their littles once a week. One of the most participated activities is the Lunch Buddies program, in which the Big visits their younger friend for lunch at their school.
“Most of my teammates are looking forward to helping out,” Stephens said. “This is good for Siena Heights basketball and those who make up the program.”
Evjen hopes to get the team more involved with Big Brothers/Big Sisters as the season progresses and he gets more comfortable in his new role at Siena Heights.
“It's been hard to jump right in being my first year, and our core involvement this year will probably come during the second semester,” Evjen said. “The transition will be better next year after everyone gets a year under their belt. It's a relationship that we want to continue.”
Big Brothers/Big Sisters is just as excited about future involvement with the Saints.
“George is moving forward and has the right mindset to get the team involved,” Hammond said. “Any way they can fit the team with our program in the future will be great.”
Along with being involved in the community, Evjen wants his team to experience the positive impact they can make in someone's life.
“I hope they appreciate it more, and they won't realize how much of an impact they'll make on the kids,” Evjen said. “But what they've been through they can convey to others and that's valuable.”