Big brothers and big sisters inspire Southwest Florida’s youth

Published: May 11, 2021 4:51 PM EDT
Updated: May 12, 2021 10:27 AM EDT

There are children in Southwest Florida who need your help. Not money, but something that’s priceless – your time.

If you can have fun, set a good example, and give advice from time to time, you could be a perfect ‘big brother’ or ‘big sister.’

Even from a distance, without any idea what they’re talking about, you can tell Carlens Etienne and Patrick Halvarson have a bond.

They’re brothers, not by birth, but by chance.

“Ever since I met ‘Pat Dad’,” Carlens said. “We like instantly clicked. Ever since then he’s been there for me more times than I can count, everything that I needed.”

Patrick Halvarson, or ‘Pat Dad’ as Carlens calls him, started mentoring Carlens in his junior year of high school, helping to make sure the star basketball player stayed eligible to play.

“Helping him get his grades up and not only get his grades up but get his grades to a point that he was doing a really good job,” Patrick said. “I was always so proud of him for how hard he worked at that.”

And that hard work paid off with graduation from Cypress Lake High School at Suncoast Arena.

While sitting in that very same arena, Patrick said, “So we were in the same room that we’re sitting in right now and I got to watch him walk across the stage, and it was a really cool proud experience as a big brother. What’s even cooler is that now he now attends this university.”

Carlens is a college student at Florida SouthWestern State College, and his ‘big brother’ helped him enroll and set up a tuition plan.

When he got in a little bit of a jam, Patrick was there to help get him out.

“He called me up one day at the office and said Pat Dad, that’s what he calls me, he said ‘I have a problem. I went to the registrar’s office. I went to enroll for my classes and I’m not eligible, because my student aid didn’t go through.'”

“I know if I’m in a pickle, I know who to call,” Carlens added.

Patrick said they spent about five hours at the registrar’s office and finally got a resolution.

Now a psychology major, Carlens wants to use everything he’s learning to help children.

“I feel like if someone was there helping because some people don’t even have family members to help them through that stuff so I feel like I psychologist I could do some change or something you know help some kids change their life something like that >so they don’t go through some of the same stuff that I kind of went through.”

Carlens juggles school with a full-time job and whatever’s going on in his life, he says Patrick’s a part of it.

They’re also celebrating another milestone. Carlens just got his own place.

And the hope is, that their friendship might inspire you.

“Carlens is just one of thousands of kids in our community that just need a little bit of help,” Patrick explained. “Carlens is a great kid. Do I believe he would’ve done it on his own? Absolutely. But to do that with a program like Big Brothers Big Sisters, it’s propelled him to not just get by but to excel.”

A reminder of the power a person can give another, not with a hand-out, but a hand up.

Patrick added, “I know the impact that this program has had on him is going to cause him to do something like this for someone else in the future. And how cool would that be if 15, 20 years from now Carlens is a Big Brother to someone like himself, and my hope is that I’ll be around to be able to see that.”

Right now, there’s a big need for ‘Bigs’.

If you think you could help by being a big brother or big sister to someone click here.

Big Brothers Big Sisters of the Sun Coast has a current need for 21 Bigs for Littles who are waiting to be matched. Of those, 17 are Little Brothers who need Big Brothers. There is also a specific need for both Big Brothers and Big Sisters from Cape Coral and Lehigh Acres. This past year, the organization has served 1,750 youth across a 10-county footprint.

Information about becoming a Big, can be found online at the Big Brothers Big Sisters website or by calling 1-855-501-BIGS.

Big Brothers Big Sisters is a nonprofit organization that relies on the generosity of community-minded, philanthropically inclined individuals and business partners for support to fulfill their mission.

The public is invited to attend an outdoor benefit Thursday, May 13 at the Burroughs Home and Gardens from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m. with a goal of raising $180,000 to match 120 children. Tickets information can be found at Big Brothers Big Sisters of the Sun Coast – Empowering Potential-Lee.

WINK News Anchor Amanda Hall will emcee the event. Hall has participated as a Big Sister with the organization since 2017.