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A Tale of Two Littles: Big Brother Joe’s Mentorship with Travis and Hok

June 17, 2024, Katie Huynh

Youth mentorship is a powerful force, creating lasting impacts on both mentors and mentees. At Big Brothers Big Sisters, we foster these meaningful relationships, by providing youth with another caring adult who can guide them through life’s challenges and help open doors to new opportunities and experiences. Bigs, in turn, often find their lives enriched by the connection and the joy of growing and learning alongside their Littles.

Joe’s journey with Big Brothers Big Sisters, spanning from Washington to Minnesota, is a testament to this mutual impact. This is the story of how Joe came to mentor not one, but two awesome Little Brothers named Travis and Hok over the course of 14 years, demonstrating in their unique ways what being a Big, a Little, a friend, a supporter, and a mentor meant to each of them. Here, in Joe’s own words, is his heartwarming experience.

“The decision to become a Big Brother first occurred to me in 2010 while living in Olympia, Washington. I had just returned from my second tour in Iraq with the U.S. Army and was stationed at Joint Base Lewis-McCord until the end of 2012. My time in the military caused me to reflect on how great it was growing up as a kid fortunate enough to have such a loving and involved father. And that this wasn’t the case for everyone. With this perspective in mind, the Big Brothers Big Sisters of America became the new mission.

Their amazing staff began the process of matching me with a Little Brother. After inquiring as to which Little Brother had been waiting the longest for a match, my match coordinator mentioned that there was a prospective Little Brother that had been on a waiting list for several years. We then made our introductions and Travis (then five years old) and his mother decided that it would be a fit going forward. Immediately it was evident that this was exactly what the two of us need.

Travis and I did all the Big Brother things, such as me trying to remember how to do math to help with his homework, going to the movies, skiing, and even catching a baseball game or two. We continued to spend time together whenever possible for the next six years.

In 2016, work took me back to my home state of Minnesota. And shortly thereafter, Travis moved to Montana to be closer to family. We kept in contact after our moves and Travis even came to Minnesota for a week the summer after he turned 12 years old. But most of our contact was over the phone.

After a few years and few jobs, it was time to for me to try being a Big Brother again, but this time, for a Little Brother in Minnesota. And once again, a match coordinator told me a familiar story: that a Little Brother had been on the waitlist for several years. We went through the process and Hok (then five years old) and I were matched. Hok was just as full of smiles and excitement as Travis 10 years earlier after our match. As soon as Hok learned that “hanging out” with him wasn’t my job, we became fast friends as is often the case for Big Brothers and Little Brothers.

Fast forward to 2024, when I receive a text message from Travis now in his 20’s. He arranged to fly out to Minnesota for the weekend and we got to catch up with each other’s lives. During his visit, I mentioned to Travis that I was still in the Big Brother program and getting to do all the fun things we used to do together back in Washington. Travis, in his typical fashion, sat quietly for few seconds before he jumped out of his seat and asked if we could go meet Hok. Half surprised that this thought never crossed my mind we called Hok’s mother and told her our amazing plan to have a Little Brother bowling party that night. Of course, she loved that plan, and she brought the whole family!

Long story short, becoming a Big Brother or a Big Sister has lasting effects not only on the everyone involved, from the Little Brothers or Little Sisters all the way to their extended families. I was overcome with emotion while listening to Travis tell Hok about all the fun adventures we had shared as a Big Brother and Little Brother team. While Hok, not to be outdone recounted some of his favorite Little Brother moments over the years. The decision to become a Big Brother or Big Sister was easy for me. But the decision to do it again was even easier. People move, we grow and change along the way—that’s the best part! Don’t be discouraged by these unexpected curves we are tossed and instead embrace them. Who knows, maybe someday that five year old kid will show up at your place with a full beard and remind you why you did this thing in the first place.”

Fun Fact: Before being matched with Joe in the fall of 2019, Hok had the incredible opportunity to spend a day with Vikings Safety Harrison Smith at the Science Museum! Check out this recap video of their time here. This special day left a lasting impression on Hok, inspiring him to play safety on his school’s football team and proudly wear Harrison’s number 22. Despite feeling the pressure of following an NFL star, Joe was told he more than lived up to the hype as Hok’s Big Brother.

Are you inspired by this story of Joe, Travis, and Hok? You can become part of an impactful relationship like theirs. Get started at our Volunteer page or Enroll a Child page.