By Justin Tate
Stillwater News Press
STILLWATER, Okla. —
Big Brothers Big Sisters of Oklahoma is a program that brings children together with adult mentors. Sometimes the friendships that form can be lifelong.
Rockford Brown developed one of those friendships with Kevin DeGraad when he moved to Stillwater 12 years ago.
“I moved back to Oklahoma from California when I got out of the Marine Corps. in 2002,” Brown said. “ It was September of 2002 when I did my first interview with them.”
“I moved here in 2000 with my mom,” DeGraad said. “It was just me and her. I didn’t have a male role model in my life at all. She thought it would be a good way to get one if I went to Big Brothers Big Sisters.”
DeGraad was about 8 years old when he and Brown met. Within a month of Brown’s interview he was paired with DeGraad and the relationship took off. DeGraad said the two were paired based on matched similar intrests. Although Brown said there were growing pains in the relationship just like any other, their connection was special. Brown had never had a younger sibling before, and his part as a “big brother” was important too.
“He kind of needed that role in his life at the time, and I think we made a pretty good match,” Brown said.
DeGraad said he and Brown bonded over firearms. Brown taught DeGraad about guns, and the time together helped deepen their relationship.
“We would hang out at his house and go shooting, mostly with bb guns but with real guns too sometimes,” DeGraad said. “That was pretty cool. He actually taught me how to shoot.”
Brown recalled his fondest memory as the time they went to the J.M. Davis Arms and Historical Museum in Claremore.
“We had only been together for about a year and he was just mesmerized with all the firearms and the collection,” Brown said. “He thought that was really cool.”
Brown said DeGraad is in college now, and they communicate primarily through text messages.
“We really run into each other more often now because he works for a business in Stillwater, and I’ll run into him while he’s working and see how he’s doing,” Brown said. “He’s got a full-time girlfriend so I know that takes up his time.”
DeGraad said he tries to find time to spend with Brown, even if Brown has to work.
“He’s working a lot so it’s kind of hard to do stuff, but every now and then I’ll ride along with him for part of his shift,” DeGraad said. “We’ll just hang out and talk about stuff.”
Brown said he feels fortunate to continue to have a friendship with DeGraad.
“Whether I had a tiny impact or a big one, I really don’t know, but I know that he has grown up to be a responsible young man and a pretty successful college student,” Brown said. “To know that I played a part, no matter how small, gives me a great feeling of joy.”
DeGraad said Brown has made a large impact on his life, and hopes he can continue to learn from Brown.
“It’s been pretty influential honestly,” DeGraad said. “It’s just good to have a male role model in your life when you are a little kid, and he’s a good role model. He’s old enough that he was sort of like a father figure as well as a big brother figure.”
Brown said he is extremely appreciative of Big Brothers Big Sisters for the experience. Although Brown and DeGraad spent most of their time outside the program, Brown said he hopes others can experience what he has through the organization.
“He filled a spot in my life,” Brown said. “I would encourage anybody who felt like they have the emotional free time and a strong desire to do it.”
“We never would have met if it wasn’t for them,” DeGraad said. “What they do for people is awesome.”