Joe Rick and Emmanuel Lewis are brothers in name and brothers in spirit. They were matched in the Big Brothers Big Sisters program in 2009, when Lewis was 9 years old. This year he’ll graduate from North Forsyth High School.
As the nation’s largest youth-mentoring program, Big Brothers Big Sisters pairs children age 6 to 18 (“Littles”) with screened volunteers (“Bigs”) to create a one-on-one mentoring relationship (called a “Match”). The program’s goal is to develop positive relationships that have a lasting effect on young people’s lives. Locally, BBBS serves nearly 700 kids, including over 100 on the waiting list. The program is always in need of more volunteers, especially males.
Rick and Lewis quickly discovered that they were both huge sports fans. Lewis was impressed that Rick, who had graduated from Wake Forest with a master’s degree in counseling, knew some of the athletes that he admired. They attended a Wake basketball game for their first outing and ended up meeting a lot of the players on the team.
Rick and Lewis did countless things together over the years, including going to see The Nutcracker. But it was Rick’s emphasis on education that really stuck with Lewis.
“Honestly, before I met Joe, I probably would not have had an opportunity to graduate from high school,” Lewis says. “He opened my eyes and pushed me to do things I never thought I’d do. Without him, I wouldn’t have the mindset I have now to go to college and start my own business.”
Rick works as the Director of Resident Life at UNC School of the Arts. He’s been matched with a third Little Brother now that Lewis is graduating from high school.
After graduating with a bachelor’s degree in biology from the University of Jamestown in North Dakota, Rick followed a friend to Wilmington and ended up getting a job at a residential treatment center for at-risk children. While there, he discovered his passion for working with young people in challenging situations. He began volunteering locally with BBBS in 2007 after graduating from Wake and has continued to do so ever since.
He also finds other ways to give back to the community, such as organizing “The Big Help,” a service initiative where UNCSA students perform monthly volunteer projects around Winston-Salem. Because of his selflessness, Rick was given the 2016 Erskine Bowles Service Award, which recognizes an employee of the 17-campus UNC system for exemplary community service.
“Someone once taught me that in order to lead others, you have to know how to serve others,” he says. “And it’s a philosophy I’ve tried to live by my whole life.”