WOODSTOCK – For the second year in a row a McHenry County volunteer has been named Illinois’ “Big Brother of the Year.”
Jeremy Weith, 28, formerly of Woodstock, was honored this month after a statewide panel of judges selected him from among Big Brothers Big Sisters agencies throughout Illinois.
The Big Brothers Big Sisters program provides mentors known as “Bigs” and support to children known as “Littles,” who need roll models. In 2011, 566 children in McHenry County reaped the benefits of having a Big Brother or Big Sister through this program, said Robyn Ostrem, executive director of the local branch of the agency.
Most children served by Big Brothers Big Sisters are in single-parent and low-income families or households where a parent is incarcerated.
Weith met his Little, Harry Whitney of Woodstock, seven years ago when Whitney was 6 years old.
Harry’s mother Lucina Whitney entered her son into the program because she knew that he would need a responsible male role model in order to grow up to be a good man.
“I am a single mother of three kids ... I have no family here at all, I am from Mexico, and at the time when Harry met Jeremy I was so worried that my kids didn’t have anybody other than me,” Whitney said.
“I was going through a really hard time myself with my separation from my ex-husband, starting a job and having to provide basic needs for my kids. It was so hard to spend quality time with them.”
Lucina Whitney said she was thankful and relieved when the Big Brothers Big Sisters program found “Bigs” for all three of her children.
“It helped them a lot and helped them to see that there were people that cared about them other than me,” she said.
The relationship between Weith and Harry has always been special, according to their Big Brothers Big Sisters case manager, Carolyn Johnson.
“Jeremy has really been there for Harry of the last six years, when little Harry was starting to make some bad choices at school and Jeremy stepped in right away and made meetings with the school and the principal and Harry’s mom,” Johnson said.
“When [Weith] makes a commitment, he makes it all the way,” she said. “Long after Harry graduates from this program they are still going to be together,” she said.
Weith also stepped up and rallied the community to provide help when the Whitneys’ apartment building burned down last year.
“We are like family because we always hang out, and if I need help with anything he is always there to help me, and we always hang out, and whenever I am in trouble he talks me through it,” said Harry, 12, a seventh-grader at Creekside Middle School in Woodstock.
What makes their bond even more amazing is that despite the fact that Weith has moved away from Woodstock, where he lived when the relationship started, he did not leave Harry behind.
Following jobs in the financial sector, Weith first moved to Chicago and today lives 75 miles away from the Whitneys in Milwaukee.
“Harry and I are sort of having somewhat of a long-distance relationship at this point,” Weith joked Wednesday. The guys talk once a week and get together at least once a month.
“Looking back six years later, when I look at what I’ve gotten out of the program and what I’ve given back to Harry – he has given me so much more,” Weith said.
Last year’s Big Brother of the Year
Bob Evans, a father of three from Cary was looking for an opportunity to give back when he enrolled in the Big Brothers Big Sisters program more than a decade ago. Bob, the Illinois Big Brother of the Year 2011, met his Little Brother, Cole, 12 years ago in the community-based mentoring program. Today Cole is a freshman at Illinois State University and has graduated from the Big Brothers Big Sisters program. He and Evans are still close, and Evans since taken on a new Little.