Harry Funk - Freelance Writer
Pittsburgh Post Gazette
December 27, 2012
Among the volunteers for Big Brothers Big Sisters of Greater Pittsburgh, J.J. Richardson is part of the next generation.
While growing up in Erie in the mid-1980s, he had his own mentor through the nationwide organization.
"Even then, I knew I'd want to become a Big Brother and kind of pay it back," said Mr. Richardson, an attorney with Goehring Rutter and Boehm who has been mentoring a child through the program for the past five years.
He was one of the volunteers and community partners honored by Big Brothers Big Sisters of Greater Pittsburgh during its annual awards ceremony last week. In addition to serving as a Big Brother, he is on the organization's board of directors, chairs its development committee and is co-chairman of the male recruitment advisory board, for which he was named Member of the Year.
"My Big Brother came along at a time when I really needed a positive male role model in my life," said Mr. Richardson, who lives in Pittsburgh and whose firm has offices in Downtown, Sewickley and Philadelphia. "It was important to me to see how a responsible male adult conducts himself and what would be available to me if I made the right decisions."
Other award recipients included Trisha Hyatt, Big Speakers Bureau Member of the Year; Mike Rethage, Young Professional Outreach Board Member of the Year; and Amanda Gunther, Washington County Advisory Board Member of the Year.
"I thought about it for a long time, trying to figure out if I had enough time to do it," said Ms. Hyatt, who has been a Big Sister for 3 1/2 years. "I had a pretty good childhood myself, and I wanted to help do that for someone else."
The Monongahela resident, who works in the career services department at the University of Pittsburgh, often speaks at Big Brothers Big Sisters training sessions and helps with hosting events.
"The relationships you can form with your 'littles' can really be life-changing, for your little and yourself," she said. "Plus it's just a lot of fun. Whenever I hang out with my little, it doesn't feel like I'm working. I'm just doing what I want to do."
Mr. Rethage, of Monroeville, has been a Big Brother for a year and a half. He became involved through his friend Tom Baker, chief community affairs officer for organization.
As chairman of the organization's young professional outreach board, Mr. Rethage recruits volunteers and speaks at events.
"I think it's important to recognize there are 1,200 kids in this region that we help," he said. "For me, it's a very rewarding experience to help mentor my little. It provides him an outlet to have a role model and be engaged in whatever he wants to engage in. Most importantly, it's to have fun."
Ms. Gunther also became involved with the organization through Mr. Baker, a classmate in her Indiana University of Pennsylvania master's program. She is assistant director of new student programs at Washington & Jefferson College, where she encourages students to participate in the organization and supports related events.
Among those is a holiday party the college hosts for local adults and children involved with the organization.
"It's always nice every year to see them come together and the impact it makes on the children," she said. "Anything we can do to help them get off to a good start."
Big Brothers Big Sisters of Greater Pittsburgh also recognized the Pittsburgh Power Arena Football League team and Riverset Credit Union as Community Partners of the Year.