Bigs of the Year honored for decade of service to Little

SPRINGFIELD, Mo. — Youth mentoring organization Big Brothers Big Sisters of the Ozarks announced its 2019 recipients of their Bigs of the Year award, honoring volunteer mentors who go above and beyond for the child they are matched with through the program (“Littles”).

This year, two exceptional individuals were selected for making a difference in the lives of their Littles: Karen McDonald and Tad Peters.

Karen & Kylie

Karen McDonald with her Little, Kylie.

Karen McDonald, of Springfield, worked in public schools for 18 years before being matched with her Little, then seven-year-old Kylie, on April 1, 2008. Over the last decade, McDonald has made it her mission to expose Kylie to experiences she might not otherwise have done, such as watching a Shakespeare play in Jordan Valley Park, opening and growing her own savings account, berry picking, and attending the Conservation Kids Club at the Springfield Conservation Nature Center. They have also enjoyed volunteering together at the local CARE animal shelter.

In an essay about her volunteer experience, McDonald wrote about the joy of watching Kylie grow from a little girl to a young adult, every stage with its challenges and celebrations. McDonald said she’s excited for what’s to come as Kylie grows more confident and outgoing and takes on new challenges as the founder and president of her high school film club and her preparation to attend Evangel University.

Karen McDonald with her Little, Kylie, earlier on in their friendship.

“I had always hoped to be matched with someone who could become a ‘forever friend.’ I feel that we accomplished just that! I look forward to continuing to be involved in her life and to watch her become a productive, happy and confident woman.

Kylie’s mom, Holly, was a single parent taking care of her disabled mother when Karen came into their lives. In an essay about Karen and Kylie’s match, she wrote of her gratitude to Karen for teaching Kylie self-sufficiency, gardening, budgeting and other life skills, in addition to instilling a sense of giving back and resiliency to obstacles.

“Karen has really empowered (Kylie) to be her own person no matter where she will be in the future. Kylie is going to stand out in the world because she had that extra hand up from her mentor and Big Sister,” Holly said.

Learn more about our Community-Based mentoring program:

Tad & Nick

Capt. Tad Peters with Little, Nick.

Captain Tad Peters, of the Springfield Police Department, joined the Big Brothers Big Sisters of the Ozarks Board of Directors in 2011. It was at that time, he decided to become a Lunch Buddy where he could spend one lunch break per week mentoring an Elementary-aged child.

In an essay about his service as a Big, Peters wrote that the agency warned him the match may not be an easy one as his Lunch Buddy, then fifth grader named Nick, frequented in-school suspension and had grown up without a positive male influence. Peters didn’t shy away from the opportunity to be in Nick’s life. 

Once Nick progressed out of the Lunch Buddy program the following year, Peters transitioned with him to the Community-Based program so they could continue cultivating their friendship. They continued their tradition of eating lunch or taking meal breaks together over the last eight years. Peters said their best conversation are had during those times: planning, goal setting, and talking about Nick’s favorite computer games.

Now preparing for high school graduation, Nick has enlisted in the U.S. Army Reserves with hopes to one day follow in Peters’ footsteps in law enforcement.

“My experience as Nick’s Big Brother has been one of the most rewarding in my life,” Peters said. “Watching Nick overcome obstacles in his life to eventually set goals and achieve those goals has been simply amazing. This is a young man who many had given up on, but I have learned that the simple investment of some time and interest in his success can make an enormous difference.”

Nick wrote in his essay about being in Big Brothers Big Sisters that his time with Peters has changed what he thought about law enforcement, about what it is to be a father and husband, and about what it means to give back to the community. “He had helped me through many issues, many of which he never knew about. Just him meeting me made me feel I was worth more than I thought I was.”

Capt. Tad Peters with Little, Nick, as Nick prepares to enter U.S. Army Reserves.

Learn more about the Lunch Buddy Program:

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