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Josh Bondeson, left, has been a mentor to Jon Greer for almost four years through Big Brothers Big Sisters of Morgan County.
Daily photo by Gary Cosby Jr.
Josh Bondeson, left, has been a mentor to Jon Greer for almost four years through Big Brothers Big Sisters of Morgan County.

Student
scores 'BIG'

Program helps form special
bond between Josh and Jon

By Patrice Stewart
pstewart@decaturdaily.com · 340-2446

They both like fishing and football.

They both enjoy chicken fingers, tractor driving and truck pulls.

They both lost their fathers too early in life.

The special bond between "Big Brother" Josh Bondeson, 32, and his "little brother," Jon Greer, has been growing for nearly four years. It's the kind of long-lasting, perfect match that Leah Brown, head of Big Brothers Big Sisters of Morgan County, likes to make, but male volunteers like Bondeson rarely call and offer to get involved with the program.

Greer was barely out of elementary school when they met and hit it off. Last week he turned 15 and got a learner's permit, and now his Big Brother, who already taught him to drive four-wheelers and tractors, is helping him learn to drive a truck on country roads with less traffic.

Though the Big Brothers program asks its volunteers to spend only about six hours a month with their younger counterparts, Bondeson spends all day at least two Saturdays a month with Greer. He drives from his home in Morgan City into Decatur to pick Greer up and then usually takes him back to the pastures and ponds owned by his family.

"He lets me drive to his house now," said Greer, who said they throw a football around some and always have a good time, whatever they're doing. "Josh lives out in the country and has a four-wheeler, and he lets me ride it and drive the tractor and feed the cows and go fishing at their pond and help his granddad at his feed store."

Bondeson said they've been to Vipers ball games and truck pulls, and they watch some college football and racing on television during the colder months and sometimes go to a movie, "but during the warmer months, we're outside, and fishing is big. We both love to fish, and it gives me time for my hobby while spending time together, too." Their favorite spot is his grandfather's bass pond, but they have been to Smith Lake and out on a boat, too.

For birthdays and Christmas, he usually buys Greer what one would buy any brother: fishing supplies, camouflage jackets and other sports supplies. "He's already got a lot of video games."

Bondeson said he tries to explain to Greer that life is not all about playing. "You have to work, too. That's the way I was raised, so I try to teach him a little of what I was taught. You don't really understand it when you're young, but when you get older and out in the work world, it makes a lot of sense."

He also encourages Greer to make good grades and stay out of trouble.

"He's a smart kid, but the high school years can be difficult, and they will be your reference for jobs later on," Bondeson said.

Like family

A Brewer High School graduate, Bondeson worked building houses and at Motorola and AdTran before joining the Boeing rocket plant (now United Launch Alliance) as a production technician in 2000.

His family owns cattle and he sells some hay, so he taught Greer how to move the hay with a tractor and put it out for the cows. "He's learned how to hook up two kinds of trailers, and I can ask him to go get two rolls of hay and he'll get on the tractor and do it," he said.

Bondeson said his next big investment will be a second four-wheeler, and then they'll do some trail riding together.

"I just treat him like he's mine, even though he's not. He's not had the pleasure of having a dad around," he said.

Bondeson grew up with a mom and dad and grandparents who were a big part of his life, but his dad died recently. His family also treats Greer as a member, inviting him to suppers and birthday parties.

But the Big Brother-Little Brother Saturday lunch tradition is chicken fingers. "We go to Walker's Carryout at Morgan City every Saturday for chicken fingers and white sauce — Jon is big on that."

After a divorce several years ago, "I felt like I needed to do something else," Bondeson recalled. His mother asked if he'd ever thought about volunteering with Big Brothers Big Sisters, so he tossed the idea around for several months to be sure before signing up.

"If there's any male out there who has time on his hands, I'd encourage him to try this," he said. "It's been a blessing to me — I signed up to help somebody else, but it turned out I helped myself."

He said Greer was quiet at first but opened up more as he got older. "I feel like we've built a relationship that will go on and on, past age 18 when this program would end."

Positive influence

Carol Greer is the grandmother who took over rearing Jon and his older brother about eight years ago, after their father, a single parent, died of a heart attack at age 36. Having a positive male influence is important, she said, and the Big Brothers Big Sisters program "has made a tremendous difference in our lives."

While her grandson, a freshman at Decatur High, is a typical teen in many ways, she said, "I give Josh the credit for showing Jon how young men are supposed to act and making him the mature young man he is. Josh is earnest and conscientious and really takes an interest in Jon, going far beyond a few hours a month."

How to help

If you can spend a few hours a month with youth ages 5 to 15, Leah Brown wants you to be a part of her program — especially if you are male.

The Big Brothers Big Sisters executive director said she has 38 boys on her waiting list who need “Big Brother” matches. There are only nine girls waiting for Big Sisters, she said, and female volunteers show up often, “but men do not tend to volunteer as much as women do.” She currently has 43 matches overall (23 Big Sisters and 19 Big Brothers).

The male volunteers she has “are absolutely awesome,” she said, and tend to continue with the program longer than females. One Big Brother-Little Brother match has been going on for nine years.

A background check is required, along with volunteer orientation. She said Big Brothers Big Sisters holds events throughout the year, such as hayrides, bowling and Christmas parties, that all volunteers and matches can attend.

They ask that the volunteer spend six hours a month, including phone calls and activities, with the young person who needs a positive role model. If that time requirement is too much, they will refer applicants to other organizations with mentoring programs.

This program serves Morgan, Lawrence, Cullman and Winston counties. For information, call Big Brothers Big Sisters, 353-0157, or check the Web site, www.bbbsmcal.org.

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