Long, uncomfortable silences punctuated the conversation on their first get-together at a McHenry restaurant.
Nowadays, though, 16-year-old Devin Raasch can’t say enough about how much she has appreciated having Danielle Carpenter in her life for the past four years.
Raasch and Carpenter were matched through the mentoring agency Big Brothers Big Sisters of McHenry County, which this year is on pace to serve nearly 600 children who have only one parent or lack a strong dual-parent relationship.
“It was kind of awkward at first,” Raasch said, recalling the night Carpenter picked her up to go to Chili’s. “But then we talked and got to know each other better, and it wasn’t as weird.”
Since then, the two have been through much, including the unexpected death of Raasch’s mother six months into their Big Sisters relationship.
“At that point, I kind of got quiet again,” Raasch said.
Twenty-nine-year-old Carpenter – who stuck with the match through Raasch’s temporary withdrawal and her ensuing move from McHenry to a town east of McHenry County – was one of two “Bigs” of the Year honored at Big Brothers Big Sisters of McHenry County’s fall gala Friday night.
Also honored at the event at Boulder Ridge Country Club in Lake in the Hills was Steve Fuller, 52, of Crystal Lake, whose match with his “little,” high school senior Caleb Fringer, began when Fringer was 7.
“Steve’s a great guy,” Fringer said. “He’s led me in the right direction.”
A mid-1990s study by Philadelphia-based Public/Private Ventures showed that participating children were 46 percent less likely to begin using illegal drugs, 27 percent less likely to begin using alcohol, 52 percent less likely to skip school, 37 percent less likely to skip a class, and 33 percent less likely to hit someone, according to literature posted on the agency’s website, bbbsmchenry.org.
Robyn Ostrem, executive director of Big Brothers Big Sisters of McHenry County, said events like the one Friday highlight the agency’s work and applaud its volunteers.
“It’s always very difficult for us to choose because we have hundreds of people making a positive difference in youths’ lives,” Ostrem said of the Bigs of the Year selection process.
Raasch, a junior in high school, participates in cheerleading and sports and, through a vocational program, attends College of Lake County. She plans to become a nurse.
“I’m very proud of her,” said Carpenter, who spends several hours with Raasch every other Tuesday doing anything from shopping to baking or just sitting and chatting.
Fringer, whose father died before he was in kindergarten, is a Woodstock resident who is considering various colleges.
“It’s really gratifying to have watched him grow from a young boy to a young man,” Fuller said. “He’s developed a strong moral compass.”
More than a dozen children remain on the agency’s waiting list. To learn more, visit www.bbbsmchenry.org or call (815) 385-3855.