Jack lost his father, but found a role model in Matt. Eight years after Jack lost his father in the terrorist attacks on New York City on September 11, 2001, he ran in the Tunnel to Towers race with his Big Brother Matt, holding a flag high in honor of his father’s memory.
Their story begins a few years ago, when Jack’s mother, Denise, was worried that her two sons—Michael, who was 3 years old when his father died, and Jack, who was only 6 months old—would not have a strong male role model in their lives. Once the two boys were old enough, the New York City Fire Department, where their father was a 10-year veteran, approached Denise to see if she would be interested in working with Big Brothers Big Sisters to find Big Brothers for the two boys. Since they did not have close family members to fill the void, Denise began to investigate.
When Jack grew old enough in September 2007, Big Brothers Big Sisters match specialist Patty paired him with Matt, a New York City fire fighter. Jack remembers their first meeting: “I was kind of nervous because I didn’t know who I was going to get or what he would be like. But right away I knew Matt was a nice guy. He smiled and started to laugh. We took a bunch of pictures together—funny, regular, and happy—and Patty gave them to us both to take home.”
Nonetheless, Denise was reluctant to leave her son alone with a person she had only just met. Patty continually checked in with the family. When she would talk to Jack, she would ask questions to make sure the match remained positive and rewarding.
Matt also immediately recognized and respected Denise’s reservations and took steps to make her feel more comfortable as Jack and he got to know each other. “If Matt takes Jack to a New York Mets game, he sends me cell phone pictures of Jack with cotton candy all over his face, laughing and enjoying himself,” Denise explains. “And when they are done with their outing, Matt texts me saying they are on their way home.”
Although Jack is in third grade, he plays on a fourth grade soccer team. Matt arrives early at their house, helps Jack with his shin guards and cleats, gets him warmed up, and then they spend quality time together as they drive to the game. Additionally, Matt and Jack always talk on Tuesday nights. Jack rushes home from school on Tuesday afternoons and exclaims “I’m going to get my phone call tonight!” Denise says that Jack is able to talk with Matt about things that he needs to chat about with another male—a brother, a friend—“not stuff you want to share with your mommy,” laughs Denise.
Matt uses these opportunities to teach Jack manners, academics and life lessons. Firstly, Matt teaches “PATYs” or “Please and Thank You’s,” which has taught Jack to be more respectful to and appreciative of his mother. Denise also remembers that she was having trouble teaching Jack how to use quotation marks. Matt suggested she show Jack newspaper stories quoting his favorite athletes, and Jack quickly picked up the lesson.
“You can’t replace a dad,” Denise says, “but it’s really important to have a guy in your life that is there just for you. That is something that Big Brothers Big Sisters gave back to my family. Matt is not going to be his dad, and Jack knows that. But no matter what, Matt is Jack’s one outlet.”
In honor of the 343 NYC firefighters who lost their lives during the 9/11 terrorist attacks, the Tunnel to Towers run begins in Brooklyn, passes through the Brooklyn Battery Tunnel and finishes at Ground Zero in Manhattan. This past year, Jack—now 9 years old—ran by his Big Brother’s side, carrying a flag together. “It was pouring rain, but when Matt held the flag it was really nice because it had my dad’s picture on it,” recalls Jack.
Denise reflects on her family’s relationship with Big Brothers Big Sisters: “Jack and Matt are a perfect fit. They like the same things and have as much energy as each other, from the soccer field to the basketball court to the playground. Matt loves it all as much as Jack. They hit if off at every aspect. Jack really looks up to him and helps him realize his potential.”
She continues, “I’d love for my kids to be able to give back one day from the experience they’ve had. If you do feel it in your heart, you should become a part of Big Brothers Big Sisters, as a donor or volunteer. My children and I know how lucky we are to have Big Brothers Big Sisters as part of our lives.”