Booster shot: Outing to help support Big Brothers/Big Sisters

By Paul Janczewski

Legal News

From its humble beginnings in 1904, the Big Brothers/Big Sisters organization has flourished, with chapters in all 50 states and more than 30 countries, spreading the success of one-on-one mentoring for youth.

But funding for the nonprofit agency has always been a key to that success, and remains more important now with the recent economic crisis and the loss of some government grants.

And that remains true in Genesee County. But local leaders have developed a plan to possibly boost visibility and generate funds by honoring one of its own former Big Brothers at the annual golf outing in June. This year, Genesee County Circuit Court Judge Duncan M. Beagle, who serves on the Family Court division, will be honored following the golf tournament.

"There are many people who support the agency, but it creates some excitement, recognizes these people and encourages others to do just a little bit more for the organization," said Reta V. Stanley, president and CEO of BB/BS of Greater Flint.

"The people that we honor are role models in our community. They hold leadership roles. And Judge Beagle is one of those people who can inspire others as well," Stanley said.

The 36th annual BB/BS golf tournament will be held June 10 at the Davison County Club, 9512 E. Lippincott Blvd., Davison. A shotgun start at 9 a.m. will feature many prizes and events, including a hole-in-one contest, raffles, and feature a luncheon with Beagle following the event. More information can be obtained by calling (810) 235-0617.

The organization started when Ernest Coulter, a New York city court clerk, saw increased numbers of young boys come through the courtroom, and believed that caring adults might help these kids stay out of trouble. Around that same time, a group called Ladies of Charity were working along a similar path with young girls.

Both groups worked independently, but merged in 1977 to form BB/BS of America.

The movement in Flint developed in the 1930s through the efforts of Frank Manley Sr., a renowned leader and originator of the Community Education concept. He recruited friends and used his business connections to persuade men to work with boys involved in the court system. A visit in the 1940s by Father Flannigan, who started Boy's Town, inspired local groups to establish the Big Brothers program. A decade later, the Big Sisters program was started. In 1985, both organizations merged, and Gary Haggart, who had been involved with Big Brothers, became director of the new agency.

Haggart would later play a role in Beagle's introduction to the program.

Beagle was born in 1947 and attended Flint schools before receiving his undergraduate degree in 1970 from Albion College. And although both his father and grandfather were attorneys, Beagle initially shunned the profession, citing the long hours his father, John S. Beagle, devoted to his career.

But because of an offhand remark from someone who told Beagle "You like to run your mouth and argue, maybe you should go into law," he relented, and received his law degree in 1975 from the University of Detroit Mercy.

Beagle said his parents were divorced when he returned from law school, and a close friend--Haggart--was involved with BB/BS.

"I wanted to get involved working with young people, and one thing led to another, and that's where it all began," Beagle said.

In part, Beagle had wanted to spend more time with his father growing up, who he described as a "workaholic," so spending time with boys who needed a male role model was a natural fit for him. And over the years, Beagle's professional life also mirrored that desire to get involved in the lives of young people. As his legal career advanced--Beagle was a District Court administrator, an assistant Genesee County prosecutor, Friend of the Court referee, a private practice attorney specializing in criminal defense and domestic relations, and finally, in 1991, was appointed to the Genesee County Circuit Court as judge--he also remained involved with BB/BS, taking on several little brothers, called "Littles" over the years.

Beagle's involvement with youth branched out to other areas, too. He sponsored sports teams, coached teams, and was an advocate for almost anything that involved kids. Even an infection to his spinal cord, in 1990, which has left him in a wheelchair, has not deterred Beagle's involvement in the lives of kids.

"I've just been drawn to working with young people, and BB/BS is just a natural part of that," he said.

Besides having Littles, Beagle was also on the BB/BS board for 20 years, served as president for four, and in 1982 was named Big Brother of the Year. He's cut back on direct involvement because he and his wife, Dana, have a son, Devan, who will graduate from high school soon.

"But he continues to contribute time, money and expertise to strengthen our program and fund-raising efforts," Stanley said.

The theme of this year's golf tournament is "For Kids Sake," and that theme is the foundation of BB/BS focus, Stanley said.

"For 65 years, BB/BS has impacted thousands of children in Genesee County through mentoring, outreach and support," she said. "And our fund-raising efforts are needed to ensure increased capacity of the organization to respond to the community needs."

She and Beagle said many of these kids come from single-parent homes, and many have no strong male role models or adults to provide friendship or a clear path to grow and prosper into contributing adults. Stanley said about 700 boys and girls each year are matched to a Big Brother or Big Sister, but hundreds remain looking for a match. But for those who are selected, studies show the program does work.

"When you see the final product, that's when people understand the importance of what we do," Stanley said.

"We see improvements in grades, their attitudes toward school, improvement within the children themselves, and their relationships with others," Stanley said.

And with all the problems facing youths--bullying, graduation rates, dropouts, drugs, unemployment--"this prevention intervention program tries to reduce that criminal activity in the long run by helping kids be the best that they can be and become productive."

Usually, Big Brothers and Sisters need only spend about an hour or so each week with their match, but it often ends up much more than that. And Stanley said it's sometimes difficult to tell who received more pleasure from the relationship, the Little, or his or her Big sibling.

"Just the joy of watching these kids grow and develop is the reward for our Big Brothers and Sisters," she said.

Beagle agrees.

"I often thought I got more out of it than the kids, because you do so many fun things," he said. "And a friendship, a trust develops. And if a relationship develops, it becomes very special. You're almost like a second father to some."

But creating that atmosphere takes money. The budget of BB/BS is about $900,000 per year, Stanley said. Federal and state grants, corporate and individual donors make some of that possible, but still a lot must come from the organizations fund-raisers. A yearly bowling event raises about $157,000 and Stanley hopes the annual golf tournament raises about $30,000. To boost the golf tournament, Stanley said the organization last year began honoring local leaders who have been important to the efforts. Beagle is this year's attraction.

"We're trying to grow it and create more excitement around it, and Judge Beagle is being honored for his past and present contributions to the agency," she said.

"We have a long history of people, like Judge Beagle, who continue to support us. We're wealthy in that respect, that there are people who are concerned about these outcomes and families," Stanley said.

But many people who give the most want nothing to do with public praise, and Beagle is no exception.

"They do this because it's important to them, and they can see how this will impact life in the community for years," Stanley said.

But they do it because they know if their works are highlighted, it helps the agency.

"He has significant influence," Stanley said. "And he's always there for us. To have continued support from people who have been a part of this organization is vital to our survival. And he represents those people who put their time in on a consistent basis and continue to support and advocate. His legacy helps us to do the work that we do."

Beagle almost had to be bribed to be honored at the golf tournament, and to be featured for this story.

"I'm a little embarrassed by it, but honored they thought of me, and if my name helps raise bucks for the program, I'll do it," he said.

He knows firsthand how difficult it is to raise money for non-profit agencies, but he also has this intense desire to help kids, especially in these troubled times. Years ago, a high school grad could walk into a good-paying auto factory job almost immediately.

"But times have changed," Beagle said.

He is serving on several committees geared to helping youth in areas of education, employment, and just being good citizens.

"All that ties in with BB/BS, giving back to that younger generation, and recognizing mentoring and giving back is such an important part," he said.

"Because you hope those little brothers and sisters will appreciate what they had, and many of them will go on to become mentors at BB/BS too.

"So I try to look at the big picture of what I've done over the years. I've enjoyed it, but it's so much more important than ever. Raising kids, and making sure they develop empathy and care for their fellowman and want to give back to the community is more important than ever."

Published: Thu, Jun 2, 2011

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