Hogan earns Big of the Year, La Plata County

Courtesy of Allison Flores

For the last two years, Hugh Hogan has been Cody’s “Big” through Big Brothers Big Sisters of Southwest Colorado. Hogan was named Big of the Year, La Plata County at a luncheon at the DoubleTree Hotel. Hogan doesn’t just spend time with Cody when he’s in town, he makes “diligent efforts” to stay in touch with Cody when he has to travel on business, the nomination said.

A belief that every child has the ability to thrive and succeed is the underlying principle for Big Brothers Big Sisters of La Plata County.

The people who act on that belief were honored Wednesday at an Appreciation Luncheon at the DoubleTree Hotel. Alpine Bank was the presenting sponsor for the event.

It’s easy to underestimate the difference a caring adult who’s not a family member can make, but I remember clearly the times such a person did that for me, whether it was an adult who really listened or one who believed in me. I bet many of you can recall experiences like that, too.

In 2011, volunteers donated more than 13,700 hours to the organization, which is valued at almost $300,000, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. (I always wondered how nonprofits calculated that value – now we all know.)

Hours donated is an accounting term. Even more important is the young lives affected by those hours. Last year, 118 young people had a big brother, big sister or big couple. Another 91 had a Study Buddy, someone who met with them once a week to help with homework and with life.

In fact, Hugh Hogan’s relationship with his Little, Cody, began when they were study buddies and progressed into a Big/Little relationship in 2010. Hogan was named Big of the Year, La Plata County for 2012 at the luncheon.

Hogan brings to the relationship a love of math and science, chess, outdoor recreation, good food and just hanging out with his wife of 30 years, Jannalee. His relationship with Cody has become a friendship between two families.

Alicia Brodner, who was unable to attend the lunch, was named Big of the Year, Archuleta County. Brodner retired to Pagosa Springs after a career in management with United Airlines. She not only brings confidence from a lifetime of business success to her relationship with her Little, Bralee, she also brings skills of being a good listener, a supportive friend and a guide.

The two have been matched for four years and say they will be friends for life.

That’s certainly what happened in Charley Kier’s life. Now a board member and a Big himself, Kier, a banker for many years, was raised by a single mom in Boulder. His Big was a retired member of the foreign service.

“He focused on learning, growing and improving,” Kier said, “but at the same time, he accepted me for who I was. I remember how special it felt to be included in such adult activities as the symphony and museum visits and how proud I was to be his friend.”

People always ask him if he’s still in touch with his Big, and he said that until a couple of months ago, his Big was in a nursing home in Louisville, and Kier’s mother visited him regularly. He died two months ago.

“So the investment of a couple of years lasts forever,” Kier said, “and I can’t impress upon people enough that they’re making a lifelong impact.”

Jerome Bléger was named Study Buddy of the Year. Besides help with academics, Bléger has helped his buddy Easten develop self-confidence and has given him hope, Easten’s mom said.

Jason Portz earned bragging rights as Board Member of the Year, which really means something with a board that works as hard as the BBBS board does.

And I don’t think it’s a coincidence that Bank of Colorado, where Portz is senior vice president, was awarded Business Supporter of the Year. Under his leadership, the bank has been a stalwart supporter of the organization.

I love Durango, if you haven’t figured that out by now, but I think anyone’s gotta love a town where, at an event sponsored by one bank, another bank – a rival, as it were – is honored, and nobody even blinked.

A couple of years ago, I was very taken with the idea when BBBS Executive Director Tracy Cornutt suggested that every time I looked at a packet of M&Ms, I think of her organization, which needs money and mentors to succeed.

I do it every time and so was not surprised to see packets of M&Ms on the table courtesy of Alpine Bank. (In fact, those M&Ms are fueling my late night writing of this column right now.)

Cornutt said most people don’t understand why it costs $1,200 per child per year to manage a Big/Little relationship. Part of it’s safety, working with law enforcement to assure mentors aren’t, sad as it is that I have to say this, predators.

But a lot of it is regular monitoring, checking in with parents, mentors, kids and schools, organizing outings throughout the year and helping Bigs understand normal childhood development as they work with their Littles. All of that caring attention is why Big Brothers Big Sisters is so successful, and why more than 3,000 kids have seen that their community cares about them during the 28 years of the organization locally.

If you’d like to help them make a forever impact on a child’s life, mail your tax-deductible contribution to BBBS of Southwest Colorado, P.O. Box 2154, Durango, CO 81302; or make it online at www.bbig.org.

And if you are interested in volunteering – and there are always kids on the waiting list – call 247-3720 to learn more.

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Wondering if they’ll wake up to snow on the mountains for their birthdays are Gail Stern, Jan Harrison, Bill Adams, Nancy Burpee, Shaelin Bassett, Dian Jenkins, Kathleen Sayers, Andrea Owen, Lou Steele, Jonathan Rudolph, Steve Williams, Maile King, Ann Huttner, Tyler Campbell, Carol Hanes, John Hill, Molly Matney, Patti Zink, Sylvia Frazier, Carson Marquez, Dasha Eggleston, Christopher Raulston, Mikayla Jeffryes, Debbie Kjonaas, Ed Tucker and Katherine Reynolds.

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For some reason, I have two pending stories about hair and cancer, so it seems the logical thing to do them both at once.

First up is little Olivia Rome, a second-grader at Animas Valley Elementary School. She has been growing out her hair for two years in the hope of donating it to a child who has cancer, and she now has about 14 inches to cut.

The official cutting will take place about 1 p.m. Sunday at Cliffside Ski & Sport, which is located at Needles. (The business belongs to her parents, Sarah and Wesley Rome, so it makes sense.)

Andrea Dunsire of Dyan’s Salon will create a cute new hairdo for the budding philanthropist, and her family is inviting people by to support her and, if you’re so inclined, throw in a monetary donation or donate your own locks if you have more than 12 inches to cut.

Visit www.wigsforkids.org to learn more.

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Meanwhile, in September, a group of courageous folks, 11 in all, volunteered to have their heads shaved to raised money for St. Baldrick’s Foundation, which raises money to fund the most promising research to find cures for childhood cancers.

Robert Frank from Euphoria Salon was the barber for the evening of Sept. 15, and the Kitchen Jam Band provided the soundtrack at the Irish Embassy Pub. Curt Alderton served as master of ceremonies.

The shavees included Derrick Casto, Erin Olinger, Lizz Mueller, Sarah Gearhart, Megan S. and Brooks P. (who preferred not to give surnames), Trevor Gomez, Jameson Araujo and Aaron Schenk.

The Bogdewiecz sisters, Taryn and Beth, did the deed to celebrate Taryn’s birthday that night. Gomez, Araujo, Schenk and Brooks P. all work at the Irish Embassy.

All told, they raised more than $7,000, partly because of the pub, which kicked in 5 percent of the upstairs bar tab for the night – a Saturday night, I might note.

Please, no phone calls to tell me area firefighters went for the bald-skull look for years on St. Patrick’s Day to benefit St. Baldrick’s. You were great, we’re delighted you went for it, and now I’m honoring these folks who just did it.

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Sipping some steaming hot chocolate for their anniversaries are Bruce and Kay Mayer and Robert and Melanie Mazur.

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