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Texas man mentors boys through Big Brothers

Dale Long and "little brother" LaDaruss Douglas tour the African-American Museum in Dallas. A United Methodist, Long has volunteered with Big Brothers Big Sisters for 30 years. UMNS photos by John Gordon.

By John Gordon*
June 14, 2007 | DALLAS, Texas (UMNS)

Long gives former little brother Pierre Rhodes, who is now a college student, a photo showing the two on an outing.

Dale Long believes a boy needs a father figure—a role model—while he's growing up. And Long has filled that role for more than three decades as a volunteer for Big Brothers Big Sisters.

"These kids are everywhere. Grandmothers are raising kids now," says Long, a public information officer for the city of Dallas.

"Our young people are our future. And in order for our young men, especially, to be men, they’ve got to see a man."

Mentoring six "little brothers" over the years, Long was named national Big Brother of the year in 1989 and was invited to the White House to meet then-President George H.W. Bush.

Long also made it his personal mission to recruit 10,000 volunteers to the program.

He signs up "big brothers" at his church, Hamilton Park United Methodist in Dallas, and through United Methodist Men’s groups. And Long travels across the United States to spread the word about Big Brothers at meetings of his college fraternity, Alpha Phi Alpha.

"I’ll talk to anyone who will listen," he says. "I tell my stories. I tell of the excitement that young people have when there’s someone that cares about them."

Long has plenty of stories to tell—taking his "littles" on fishing trips, to movies and church services, on outings to museums and errands to stores, and countless other activities. He is now a big brother to LaDaruss Douglas, a 15-year-old with autism.

"It was a little bit different for me, little scary at first. But we are good buddies," says Long.

"Our young people are our future. And in order for our young men, especially, to be men, they've got to see a man." -Dale Long

"I’ve taught him some of the things that he needs to do in dealing with his special needs. He’s taught me patience."

LaDaruss’ mother, Pamela Nwachukw, considers Long part of her family. "He’s been very helpful to my son in a lot of ways, helping him to be more sociable," she says. "I’ve seen where he’s made a very big improvement."

Long grew up in Birmingham, Ala., where the racial strife and violence of the '50s and '60s helped to shape his life. He admired civil rights leader the Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr.

"I had the awful experience of … being a victim in the 1963 bombing of 16th Street Church in Birmingham," says Long, who was a friend of the four girls killed in the bombing. "We were actually three or four rooms down from each other. Sometimes I go the extra mile in their honor, to do the things that they didn’t get a chance to do."

Long became a big brother in 1974 after he graduated from college and went to work in Houston for a contractor on NASA’s space shuttle program. A fraternity brother had suggested he volunteer.

He agreed to give it a try, taking 7-year-old Keith Farmer to see a Houston Astros baseball game.

"He kept asking me, 'Mr. Long, are you going to be my big brother forever?'" recalls Long. "At that point, I wasn’t quite sure. But by the end of the day, I was convinced that’s what I wanted to do."

Long later moved to Dallas and joined Hamilton Park after another Big Brothers volunteer asked him to come to the church and share his experiences. Long’s wife, Ellen, recently signed up to become a big sister after the couple’s two daughters enrolled in college.

Long, daughter Amber, wife Ellen and little brother LaDaruss worship at Hamilton Park United Methodist Church in Dallas.

Long has kept in touch with most of his former littles—and takes pride in their accomplishments. Some are now college students or raising families of their own. All have stayed out of trouble. "I’d like to believe that I played an important role in that happening and being there for them," he says.

Pierre Rhodes, 25, is one of Long’s former littles who now attends college.

"When you come from a single-parent home and you don’t … get to know who your father is, you don’t get to know a male role model," says Rhodes. "No matter how hard your mother tries, there are some things she just can’t teach you."

For Long, the reward is seeing the changes in young lives.

"The prize," he says, "is when you know that they’ve grown up and not become a statistic—when they have a diploma in their hand instead of handcuffs."

*Gordon is a freelance producer and writer based in Marshall, Texas.

News media contact: Fran Coode Walsh, Nashville, Tenn., (615) 742-5470 or newdesk@umcom.org.

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