Tom Hood/Larson Newspapers
Sedona resident Mel Levine spent three years with his little brother Russell through the Big Brothers Big Sisters organization. Recently he received a note from Russell notifying Levine that he had been accepted to the West Point military academy.
The third time was indeed the charm for Mel Levine.
After Levine tried twice to be matched with teen boys as a Big Brother and the boys wanted no part of it, he was hesitant when the counselor at Big Brothers Big Sisters asked if he would try one more time. He met 8-year-old Russell, a curious young man with wavy black hair and deep brown eyes. The two spent three rewarding years enjoying time together. However, the biggest reward came nearly 10 years later.
“When he first came to us I’d teach him how to play baseball, we’d go bowling, swimming or I’d just help him with his schoolwork, or we’d watch a movie. He really wanted to go fishing, but I’m from New York City. I hate fishing,” Levine said. “That’s where my wife Marion came in.”
Marion Levine took Russell a few times but they never caught a fish. To satisfy the young man’s wish, she took him to a trout farm where he caught four fish in 10 minutes.
“That got expensive. Next time we went to Bashas’ and put the fish on a hook. No one asked if we caught it,” Marion Levine said and laughed as she held her arm up as if she had a fish on a line.
Russell was very quiet so Levine said he never knew if he and his wife were doing a good job, he said.
Around the age of 11, Russell left the Levines when his family moved away. Russell’s mother called them once in a while. In one conversation the Levines discovered Russell went to live with his mother’s sister who sent him to military school, thinking it was in his best interest, Mel Levine said.
Then the family disappeared and Levine heard nothing of Russell or his whereabouts until four years later when he received a letter, which included a cell phone number. Levine called and talked briefly with Russell.
“He said he missed us, but that was the only time we talked,” Levine said. “Then, all of a sudden, a couple weeks ago we received a card from Russell along with a certificate that he’s been accepted to West Point. I know how hard that is to get into.”
Russell’s words in the card brought tears to Levine’s eyes.
He wrote, “Even though the success [being accepted to West Point] is sweet, I know that it would not have been possible without the positive motivation you gave me as a child.”
Sometimes, Levine said he felt overwhelmed but is very glad he accepted a third chance to be a Big Brother, and thinks people should give it a try.
“A little time, patience, energy and a desire to help is all that is necessary. It’s a very worthwhile cause and a rewarding one, although sometimes it happens later,” Levine said. His voice started to crack. “The fact I found out we made a difference in Russell’s life is something I can’t measure.” Yavapai Big Brothers Big Sisters matches an adult volunteer with a child, ages 6 through 18, for a positive mentoring relationship. An extensive background screening process is part of the program.
Statistics gathered by the organization nationally show children who have a mentor are more confident in school and perform better, are 46 percent less likely to begin using illegal drugs, 27 percent less likely to start drinking alcohol and 52 percent less likely to skip school. Approximately 83 percent of former “littles” report back with similar statements as Russell.
“His words in the card were so special to me, I just can’t express it,” Levine said.