Three young men brought together by Big Brothers Big Sisters of America in Fort Myers have made their shared love of basketball the basis of a lifelong friendship.
Cliff Smith was matched with David and Jonathan Delices through Big Brothers Big Sisters 6 1/2 years ago.
“When we first were matched, literally, you could count the words combined they both would say on your hands,” said Smith, who was assigned to be the Delices’ big brother. “They would answer questions with ‘yes,’ ‘no’… I mean, they were always unbelievably polite, always unbelievably friendly, but as shy and untalkative as you could get.”
But many late-night games of basketball eventually got everyone talking.
“I can’t even recognize the old me, because I’m so different,” said David.
“I think of [Chris] as another father figure, in a way, because he essentially is… like, if I’m playing my sports, he’s always there,” said Jonathan.
On and off the court, Smith swooped in at the perfect time.
“Before we met cliff, our environment was not the greatest; you know, we had friends that were smoking and drinking; the basketball court we used to play, there were fights there all the time, we would watch drug deals happen, like, right in front of us while we were hooping, and we were like 12, 11 years old,” David said. “And that was one of the first things lifted was removing us from the environment by giving us access to the YMCA.”
The love of the game brought them together initially, but Smith became a sort of point guard in their lives, setting them up for college and successful careers.
Jonathan is dual-enrolled at Fort Myers High School. He’s already been accepted to The Water School at Florida Gulf Coast University. David is working towards his master’s degree in social work at FGCU.
Smith bounces between cheering on the sidelines and being at the center of the action.
“I actually was the officiant at David’s wedding, which was unbelievably cool,” Smith said.
In Southwest Florida, 111 young men are on a waitlist to be matched with a big brother: 28 in Lee County, 13 in Collier County and 70 in Charlotte County.
“You don’t know what everyone’s situation is,” David said. “But I know—I can predict—that a lot of people that are on that waiting list are in great need because their situation is very difficult. And they just need someone to support them and encourage them and tell them that they’re there for them.”
The minimum commitment to be a big sibling is four hours per month. That can be a couple of meals or a long afternoon working together on something, or even playing basketball. Whatever it is, the real reward is the difference you make for someone.
“He truly changed my life, and he didn’t have to do that,” Jonathan said. “But he did that with the kindness of his heart”
Big Brothers Big Sisters is working to recruit 100 men in 100 days. If you think you can be a match for someone, head to the organization’s website.