At 8 years old, Keegan Michels signed up for Big Brothers Big Sisters to get out of the house and make new friends. Eight years later, the teen has now signed up with the company to return the favor — and was partnered with his “little brother” in January.
“I like knowing that I’m giving back to the community and giving back to the organization that gave me so much when I was a little kid,” Michels said.
Michels had two separate “bigs” while growing up — and often attended fun “volunteer” events that allowed him to have a “big brother” for a night.
“They were always awesome. It was like a rent-a-big for the night,” Michels said.
Knowing Big Brothers Big Sisters of Manitowoc County is short on “bigs,” Michels volunteered when he turned 16, and was partnered with his “little,” Jose, in January.
“Every time we hang out, it’s a new, fun experience,” he said.
The two go to the Y, fly kites, and Michels has begun teaching Jose how to play golf.
“As a big, I’ve learned that I need to be a good role model not only to my little, but to every young kid of my generation,” Michels said.
Michels was a guest speaker during the BBBS of Manitowoc County appreciation dinner Tuesday. Three individuals were awarded during the dinner for their service to the organization.
The Lester Philanthropic Award, given annually to a major financial backer of the BBBS organization, was awarded to Carmeuse Lime & Stone.
“Over the last five years, they have donated $19,500 directly to programing,” said Jim Lester, a volunteer with Big Brothers Big Sisters. “This award (named in honor of Jim Lester and his wife) not only benefits the Big Brothers Big Sisters, but the entire community.”
John Johnson, who accepted the award on behalf of the company, said employees voted on which nonprofit to donate to and that Big Brothers Big Sisters received the most votes.
“It had to do with children, their enrichment and fulfillment,” Johnson said. “I would say thanks to our employees, because they are the reason this is what it is today.”
Two Rasmuson Outstanding Volunteer awards, named posthumously after volunteer Ron Rasmuson, were awarded at the banquet — a change from the norm. Traditionally, the organization awards one individual annually with the award, but the committee voting on the recipient resulted in a tie.
Sally Rasmuson, Ron’s wife, presented the awards at the ceremony. She said her husband was a teacher and had a heart for children, but had a heart condition that ended his teaching career early.
“He had a cardiac disease that spanned 25 years,” Rasmuson said. “When they told him in 1989 that he couldn’t teach anymore, it broke his heart. He started looking around for something that could replace some of that in his life, and he found Big Brothers Big Sisters.”
The first of the awards was given to Dana and Jill Jaeger. The couple run an annual “Holiday Haus” Christmas light display at their 13th Street home and put out a donation box in which proceeds are donated to Big Brothers Big Sisters. The couple also puts out a food donation box to collect items for Peter’s Pantry and, in recent years, have started a “Halloween House” display to collect donations.
“Dana and Jill display a true selflessness in our community,” BBBS Executive Director Michelle Linville said. “The Jaegers decided a donation box was a good idea, but not for their own benefit. They decided the volunteer contributions of those enjoying the light display would benefit local charities.”
Dana and Jill said they were “blown away” by the honor.
“We do the light display to share with the community and brighten everyone’s lives,” Dana Jaeger said.
The second Rasmuson Outstanding Volunteer Award was given to John Hebl, who “volunteers at events and never complains or seeks recognition,” Linville said. “John volunteers because he truly enjoys it and wants to give back to the community.”
“All I can say is I love working with this organization,” Hebl said. “It is a group of people that do wondrous things for the community.”