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Brothers, sisters go sailing

SUNDAY, SEPT. 25, 2005

The lanky boy with bangs in his eyes looked bored, and even a tad sullen, Saturday afternoon as he waited for the adults to stop standing around on the beach talking.

About a half hour later, though, he breezed past on a catamaran with the sun in his eyes and a smile splashed all over his face.

He was among about a half dozen kids who spent Saturday afternoon learning to sail with their adult big brothers and big sisters.

The Big Brothers Big Sisters event was arranged rather last minute, said Laura Sanchez, a caseworker with Big Brothers Big Sisters of the Inland Northwest.

“These people who showed up didn’t have a lot of time to plan,” she said. The outing was made possible by two sailing-related businesses: SAIL, or Self Awareness In Leisure, a Hayden company that teaches sailing and sells catamarans, and The Catamaran Club, a sailboat dealership and club.

Next summer, they plan to hold regular outings such as this for the unmatched little brothers and sisters, said Craig McBurney of The Catamaran Club.

“The biggest problem Big Brothers Big Sisters has isn’t money, it’s finding bigs,” said McBurney.

About 20 kids in Kootenai County are on a waiting list for a big brother or big sister, and another 150 or so are on the waiting list in Spokane, Sanchez said.

“The biggest hurdle for us is finding bigs, particularly big brothers,” she said. “Our clients are mostly boys.”

That’s because Big Brothers Big Sisters is dedicated to finding adult role models for children of single parent households. And because most single family households are headed by women, the adult role model missing is male, she said.

Big Brothers Big Sisters volunteers commit to getting together with their “little” at least once a month, and calling regularly. Some pairs grow quite close.

Zack Peterson, a wide-eyed boy of 11, hung on his big brother Doug Renfrew, burrowing into his side as they listened to McBurney talk about the difference between a single-hulled sailboat and a catamaran.

When McBurney asked who was ready to go on the big catamaran, Zack stepped right up, dragging Renfrew along by the hand.

Zack and Renfrew have been together almost three years, said Renfrew, 58. “We like to go fishing together. I get together with him every weekend.”

Zack said he felt a little shy when he first met Renfrew. But when asked what he thinks now, Zack said, “He’s cool,” and slipped his arm through his big brother’s.

Zack’s mother, Angela, said she got her sons involved in Big Brothers Big Sisters because their father was pretty much “not in the picture.” She said it was unnerving at first letting her son go on outings with Renfrew, even when she knew about the background checks and other precautions the organization takes, and she monitored them closely.

But now, “I really feel like I can trust Doug,” she said, noting that Renfrew attends every one of Zack’s school events. “It’s been a wonderful experience for Zack.”

Now Angela is waiting for a match for her older son, Tyler. Tyler had a big brother before, but the guy didn’t follow through. Tyler would call and call, she said, and wouldn’t hear back.

“It was very hurtful,” she said. She cautioned people not to volunteer unless they’re ready to be a part of a child’s life. “It’s a 100 percent commitment.”

The commitment didn’t appear burdensome for Larry Johnson of Spokane, who took the first sail with his “little,” 11-year-old Isaac Mendoza, on the big 33-foot catamaran.

They’ve ridden the Hiawatha Trail together, been to baseball games and most recently rode nearly every ride at the Spokane Interstate Fair. On Saturday, they leaned back and enjoyed the sun and wind on Lake Coeur d’Alene.

“It couldn’t be a better day,” Johnson said.


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