Big Brothers Big Sisters of Blair County set to celebrate milestone

They were sister match 216.

Grace DeBolt of Altoona and Jaime Shuler of Florida were matched as Big and Little Sister in 1991 at the Big Brothers Big Sisters of Blair County agency.

DeBolt, who lived in Duncansville at the time, was newly divorced and lonely when she saw a commercial for the program and thought she was a good fit, considering she had raised two daughters and led an active lifestyle, enjoying activities such as biking, boating and skiing.

Shuler, who was 11 years old at the time of the match, lived in Altoona until she joined the Air Force at age 18.

After re-connecting about three years ago, DeBolt recently traveled to Florida for another visit with Shuler, now the mother of three and an air traffic controller with the Federal Aviation Administration.

DeBolt would recommend participating in Big Brothers Big Sisters, a program she said, “helps the children and it gives you a sense of purpose.”

Indeed, DeBolt had a tremendous impact on Shuler.

Her relationship with DeBolt made Shuler “realize there’s more and it made me want more. To see … there’s more to life than what was going on and not everybody lived the way that I thought,” Shuler said. “And that was big.”

Big Brothers Big Sisters of Blair County is 50 years old and the nonprofit organization is taking the milestone opportunity to celebrate and say thanks to the people who like DeBolt have made a difference in the life of an area child.

With the celebration the agency wants to thank “everyone who has allowed us to get to this point,” Executive Director Gail Clapper said.

To celebrate the 50th anniversary the organization will host some events at Baker Mansion, Clapper said.

“We’re very excited to have our 50th year and what we’re looking to do is have several events where we can try to bring the past and the present together,” she said.

A light reception will be held at the mansion from 5 to 7 p.m. Thursday for past and present board members and community partners. Due to incomplete records, board members who did not receive an invitation are encouraged to contact the agency.

The organization will host an event at the mansion for alumni and those in the community considering becoming a Big Brother, Big Sister or Big Couple from 5 to 7 p.m. April 15.

An event at the mansion in September will focus on current participants and their families. No date and time is set yet.

Finally, plans for a gala dinner taking place Oct. 14 at the Jaffa Shrine are underway.

The nonprofit Big Brothers Big Sisters is a mentoring program matching adults, ages 18-80, with children ages 6 to 17.

Founded in 1964, the Blair office of Big Brothers of Blair County welcomed Big Sisters in 1982. Six years later, the agency expanded into Huntingdon County.

In 50 years, more than 2,100 children have gone through the Big Brothers Big Sisters of Blair County program, Clapper said.

On average, matches at Big Brothers Big Sisters agencies last for about two years, she said.

BBBS of Blair County has school-based programs in Southern Huntingdon, Huntingdon and Bellwood. Last year, it added its first site-based program at the Hillside Community Church, North Juniata.

The agency’s future involves expanding its footprint, Clapper said.

With transportation often an issue in the area, more site-based programs are in the plans.

They would also like to get the word out about the need for Big Brothers in particular, and letting “them know the quality of our support we do for you to become a mentor,” Clapper said.

The Bigs who dedicate their time to Littles make the program a success, Board of Directors President Tom Smith said.

He gives credit to the employees and is thankful for the program’s benefactors: area businesses, corporations and individuals, who have “stepped up big time over the years” and are “very, very faithful and generous,” he said.

“Many times we have some of the former Littles come back and thank us, make contributions, and they really have enjoyed their time with the organization,” Smith said.

When DeBolt and Shuler were matched, they attended outings arranged through the organization such as camping trips and bowling with the other Bigs and Littles, DeBolt said.

DeBolt, who felt her and Shuler were a good match from the start, also had a pool at her home where they swam and they would go to Raystown to take her boat out on the water.

“Some of the things she enjoyed the most were just sitting around our house, doing our nails and just visiting. We didn’t have to do anything special, we just enjoyed our time together,” DeBolt said.

Shuler did not know why her mom signed her and her sister up for the program more than 20 years ago.

“I just know she did and I’m thankful,” she said.

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Mirror Staff Writer Amanda Gabeletto is at 949-7030.