The first programs for boys and girls started separately in 1904 in New York City children’s courts. The boys group was started by court clerk Ernest Coulter, while the Ladies of Charity were befriending girls. By 1917 the first national conference of Big Brothers and Big Sisters organizations was held in Grand Rapids, Michigan.
Both groups continued to work independently until 1977, when Big Brothers Association and Big Sisters International joined forces and became Big Brothers Big Sisters of America. [Read more BBBS history]
Keith Bovee and staff members of the Muskegon YMCA start a Big Brothers mentoring program aimed at fatherless boys. Big Brothers of Muskegon County incorporates as a nonprofit agency with an 18-member Board of Directors.
United Appeal (United Way) funds the program with a $12,000 allocation. The office is located in Mission for Area People, and 2 caseworkers are hired. Within the year, the agency made it’s 100th match, but 58 children remained on the waitlist.
In Grand Haven, Higher Horizons launches youth mentoring; the Big Brother program is led by Fred Groen, and Fritzie Correll Arnson heads the Big Sister program.
Joan Workman of Muskegon starts a Big Sisters program, which later merges with the Big Brothers agency.
Big Brothers/Big Sisters of Muskegon County, under the leadership of Keith Bovee, merges with the local YFCA and moves into the new “Y” building on Western Avenue in Muskegon. The move is described in a Muskegon Chronicle article dated February 27, 1980 as a means to overcome the financial problems that small agencies face.
During this decade, the waitlist in Muskegon County swells to over 140 kids with over 80% boys. Under the leadership of Nate Johnson, monthly group activities are arranged for unmatched Littles and recruiting efforts focus on finding Big Brothers.
In January 1986, the Grand Haven Tribune reports that there are 100 boys and 13 girls on waiting lists in the Tri-Cities, served by Higher Horizons’ Big Brother and Big Sister programs. Funding is also reported as a problem for both programs.
The first Big Brothers/Big Sisters “Bowling Challenge” fundraiser is held in April 1985, at Northway Lanes. Warren Reynolds of WOTV Channel 8 is the honorary chairperson and Detroit Lions wide receiver Jeff Chadwick is a special guest. Participating bowlers receive an official Big Brothers/Big Sisters bowling towel and are entered in a drawing to win a VHS video recorder.
Big Brothers/Big Sisters of Muskegon County creates the Joey Ellis Award for outstanding supporters, in honor of Little Brother Joseph Edward Ellis who was killed in a fire in 1974.
Tom Rapson and Tony Clark are named Big Brothers of the Year. [See newsletter article]
Under the leadership of Rob Cowan and R. Michael Beahan, the agency separates from the YFCA and becomes Big Brothers/Big Sisters of Muskegon County, Inc.
Leo Kiley is named Big Brother of the Year. Judy McMahon receives Big Sister of the Year. Pete Wade is named Volunteer of the Year for his participation in Bowl for Kids Sake. The Joey Ellis Award goes to S. D. Warren.
Tom Schaub serves as Executive Director, followed by Nancy Brozek.
There are 160 Littles on the wait list and 145 active matches. Activities for unmatched Littles include an overnight stay on the USS Silversides in July, 1992.
Human “horses” pull sulkies in the Two-Legged Trotter Race at Muskegon Race Course to raise funds for Big Brothers/Big Sisters of Muskegon County. [See undated Muskegon Chronicle article and photo]
N. B. “Whitey” Sawyer is named Big Brother of the Year; Cynthia Smitko is named Big Sister of the Year. Gregory LaPres receives the Joey Ellis Award for his service as chairman of the BBBSL Board of Directors finance committee and chaired Bowl for Kids Sake for two years.
On an undated poster, “The BIG Team” lists 28 Bowl For Kids Sake supporters who have publicly pledged to raise $1000 each. In 1996, a Sunday Chronicle ad lists 17 “Big Team” supporters making the $1000 pledge.
Big Brothers/Big Sisters of Muskegon expands to include Oceana and Mason counties, becoming Big Brothers Big Sisters of the Lakeshore, Inc. The office is located at 1706 Clinton Ste 300, Muskegon MI.
West Michigan native Jim Dreyer swims across Lake Michigan on August 3, in part to raise funds and awareness for Big Brothers Big Sisters of America.
The Muskegon Heights Fire Department launches a six-week summer program with BBBSL for unmatched boys called “FACE to Face” (Firefighters Advocating Character & Ethics). Each boy spends 2.5 hours per week with one of three fire crews to learn about responsibility, caring, citizenship, trustworthiness, respect and fairness; and to “hang out with the guys” at the fire station. The program was created by Dave Alves, a Muskegon Heights firefighter.
BBBSL service area expands to include Ottawa County.
Participants in the site-based program at Muskegon Technical Academy form the Summer Youth Garden Project in partnership with the Muskegon County Health Department and Community Mental Health. The garden is located at 209 E. Apple Avenue, behind county offices on the former Baker College Campus. The produce is sold at the health department and the farmer’s market. Students created their own “employee handbook” for participants in the project and maintain a ledger of their activities.
The Mentoring Program at Muskegon, Muskegon Heights and Reeths-Puffer schools matches middle and high school students with elementary students for after-school activities. Ashley McDaniel is awarded “High School Big of the Year.”
Pat & Mike Michney earn “Big Couple of the Year,” Brian Delong and Barb Gerrans are chosen as Big Brother and Big Sister of the Year for the agency, and Morris Shanks earns the State of Michigan Big Brother of the Year award.
Longtime supporter and board member Larry Cooper is the recipient of the Joey Ellis Award.
Brian Obits becomes the Executive Director of BBBSL. Big Brothers Big Sisters receives a $20,000 check from Ronald McDonald House Charities, funding 110 matches for one year.
BBBSL announces the establishment of a permanently endowed fund at the Community Foundation for Muskegon County.
Bowl For Kids Sake hosts six events in Muskegon, Spring Lake, Hart, Ludington and Holland. Seventeen “King Pins” are publicly recognized for committing to raise $500 each.
Singles can join a “Speed Bowl Dating” event during Bowl For Kids Sake. On March 10, ladies are assigned to a lane at Sherman Bowling Center and gentlemen spend 10 minutes bowling and contributing to each lady’s score.
The “E-mentors” program launches, offering e-mail mentoring for Muskegon High School 9th grade students matched with adults working in the student’s field of interest.
The Muskegon Rotary Club devotes its fourth annual Grape Escape wine tasting event to benefit BBBSL. Participants purchase tickets for $35 each and enjoy live jazz music, food and wines from various restaurants and wineries.
Led by BBBSL moves into the office at 4256 Grand Haven Road, Norton Shores.
In conjunction with national fundraising efforts, customers who visit Arby’s restaurants in Muskegon, Spring Lake, Holland, Whitehall and Ludington donate $1 to “Help Us Help Kids” for BBBSL.
Sports Clips hosts a “just for guys” Big Brother recruiting week.
Fourteen “King Pins” are publicly recognized for committing to raise $1000 each for the Bowl For Kids Sake fundraiser.
BBBSL celebrates its 40th anniversary with a dinner for past volunteers, participants and families still in the program. [Read Susan Harrison Wolffis’ article in The Muskegon Chronicle]
Pat and Julie Donahue pledge to match up to $25,000 in donations to the Big Brothers Big Sisters endowment fund at the Community Foundation for Muskegon County. [Read article in MLive] Regina Sjoberg serves BBBSL as Executive Director.
The waitlist for children needing mentors again surges to triple-digits; efforts are made to recruit adult mentors. [Read Cara Taylor’s letter in The Muskegon Chronicle]
Cindy Timmerman joins BBBSL as Executive Director.
Coffee lovers enjoy the “Thanks a Latte” fundraiser for BBBSL by buying mugs and refills. Proceeds support match support for 165+ matches. [Read Muskegon Chronicle article]
Tom Hickman is named Michigan’s Big Brother of the Year. [Read Muskegon Chronicle article]
Lisa Hegenbart is chosen as Executive Director.
STEM activities for Bigs and Littles at the Lakeshore MCC Fab Lab are funded through Arconic Foundation.
BBBSL celebrates their 50th Anniversary with a 60s-themed gala, “The Big Five-Oh!” [See the interview with Positively Muskegon]
The COVID pandemic disrupts operations and fundraising — the 2020 Bowl For Kids’ Sake events are cancelled just days before they were to take place. Bigs and Littles, along with match support staff, learn to use video conferencing and online tools to keep going. BBBSL launches “Golf for Kids’ Sake” as an outdoor, covid-safe fundraiser. Several other fundraisers attempt to fill the gap.
Leadership passes from Robin Hard to Denyel McAllister, then to Cloey Buzzell.
Despite the best efforts of Cloey Buzzell and her staff, funding problems continue. BBBSL closes its office on Grand Haven Road in Norton Shores.