Thumbnail by Jonny Keelty; banner by Tinou Bao
Article by Jeremy Evans

Bowl a strike. Make an impact.

That's the motto of this year's Bowl for Kids' Sake, the annual fundraiser for the Big Brothers Big Sisters of the Saginaw Bay Area. The agency is currently seeking sponsors and pledge-raising bowlers before the main events at Saginaw's Crooked Creek Lanes, Friday, February 18 and at Bay City's Monitor Lanes on Friday, February 25. Never has the need for help been more urgent.

“If we cannot generate some additional revenue, we won't be here by mid-summer,” said Shelly Greene, executive director of the agency that serves both Saginaw and Bay counties. “We'll have to close.”

Big Brothers Big Sisters, a presence in the region since 1953, serves nearly 500 children ages 5 to 18 in the local area. The program is different from the Boys and Girls Club; it provides one-on-one, long-term mentoring for at-risk youth by matching individuals with a positive adult role model. Still, both organizations appear to be sharing the same fate in these difficult times.

“Right now, with the state of the economy, people that want to give money are just not able to do that,” said Greene. Funding from major organizational donors has shrunk, too, as portfolios have collapsed around the nation. That spells trouble for the long-term health of the community, Greene warns, as forward-looking programs designed to nurture children fall by the wayside. But getting the public's attention can be difficult for modest groups such as Big Brothers Big Sisters and the Boys and Girls Club.

“We're really more than a Band-Aid fix, but it's so hard for folks to see that,” Greene said. “We are a volunteer-based organization, and everything we do is free. We can only be as successful as our community allows us to be.”

Already, the organization is stretched to the limit. Every day, Greene says, at least one child calls to see if a Big Brother or Big Sister is available for them. “They're just looking for someone to be a friend for them,” she explained. “And we want to provide them with positive consistent support. We know we have an impact; wherever we go, we're always running into folks we didn't even know were in the program years ago who still keep in touch with their mentors.”

One of those mentors is Saginaw's Michael Balls. Balls, a Delphi retiree and a personal advocate in an in-patient drug counseling center, has been a Big Brother for decades, mentoring five Little Brothers for the years. Balls still keeps in touch with most of them. The oldest, now 34, is a barber and an employee at Nexteer. “He tells me that whenever he gets into tough situations, he thinks about things I've told him, and that's how I know I've made a difference,” he said.

Balls recounted a moment with this former Little Brother that he rated as perhaps his finest in the program. “A few years back, he told me that I've been more than a Big Brother to him, that I've been like a father to him,” Balls said. “He told me he wants me to be the best man at his wedding when he gets married someday. That really brought tears to my eyes,” he said, his voice resounding with emotion.

For more information about becoming a sponsor or raising pledges for this year's Big Brothers Big Sisters Bowl for Kids' Sake, call (989) 755-6558 or visit

© Jeremy Evans, 2011