Mike Brinker : From Volunteer to Big Brother

Donovan’s parents were jailed when he was three months old, leaving him without a guardian. Through his youngest years, Donovan moved through multiple foster homes until he was finally adopted by his great aunt Suzie. Suzie had already seen her parenting days go by, but she could not let Donovan grow into the world without the support he needs. Donovan is 10 years old now, and Suzie has been his legal guardian for most of his life.

When Mike Brinker retired in 2015, he had a lot of new time that he wanted to put to good use in Bartholomew County. Mike connected with the United Way Volunteer Action Center and quickly began assessing and coordinating volunteer projects for the United Way Day of Caring; one of those volunteer projects was maintenance on Suzie and Donovan’s house in the East Side neighborhood of Columbus.

On the day volunteers were working on his home, Donovan was curious about the work and wanted to help. Mike showed him some of the work being done, and he saw that Donovan needed more guidance than a single day could offer. He wanted to continue working with Donovan after the volunteer project was finished.

Mike followed up with United Way to help connect Donovan to youth programming in Bartholomew County. It was there he learned about Big Brothers Big Sisters, a program of the Foundation for Youth that connects adult mentors to local children in need. “I had never thought about becoming a Big Brother before, but this was a unique situation where I saw an opportunity to help,” says Mike. 

Mike worked with United Way and Suzie to register Donovan with Big Brothers Big Sisters at the Foundation for Youth. Since being approved through the program, Mike has built a relationship with Donovan as his mentor. “It’s been a great experience, building trust and building a relationship,” says Mike. “My hope is that when the big questions come his way as a teenager – what he’s going to do with school and a career – that he can use me as a resource to help steer him in the right direction."

The work on Donovan's house may be complete, but Mike still visits often to work with Donovan on his future.