At 13 years old, Austin Street is a man of few words. A rising eighth-grader at McCall Middle School in Montoursville, he prefers quieter hobbies, such as playing the popular video game “Fortnight” and spending time outdoors. The latter has become a key ingredient in his relationship with Big Brother Trey Kling, who serves as Austin’s mentor in the Big Brothers Big Sisters of the Bridge program in Lycoming County.
“If I didn’t know Trey, I probably wouldn’t be doing half the stuff that I do now,” Austin said. “I probably wouldn’t be hunting or fishing or doing anything outdoors. He’s taught me a lot of stuff.”
On a warm, spring day in 2017, Kling,an instrumentation tech in the natural gas industry, was taking a drive and doing some soul searching. He had been wanting to get involved in his community for some time but wasn’t quite sure how to go about it. Then, as if by fate, a radio advertisement came on for Big Brothers Big Sisters, stressing the organization’s particular need for male “bigs.” When he got home, he called program specialist Wala Tillman, who helped him begin the process of finding potential matches. His first match was Austin.
“We had a lot of the same interests. He wanted to learn a lot of the things that I do — kayaking, swimming, hunting, fishing,” Kling said. “It was actually kind of convenient too, because he lived like four blocks away from me.”
The pair bonded over football and a mutual love for the Eagles, eventually enjoying pickup games of basketball at Kling’s house on a regular basis.
“It just went from there,” Kling said.
For the past three years, Kling and Austin, who was entered into Big Brothers Big Sisters by his mother, have met up nearly every weekend to share their great love of outdoor activities. Austin says the sport the pair picks depends on the time of the year. In the summer, they do water-based ones — kayaking is the usual favorite– while in the winter, they like ice fishing, hunting and archery.
While they’re out, Austin enjoys joking with Kling about their common competitive nature.
“It’s always a competition,” Austin said, laughing. “If we’re trying to split wood and stuff, he splits (most of it) for me and I say, ‘Can I have the axe for a second?’ And then I just split the rest of it and say I did everything.”
Staying connected during the COVID-19 pandemic was tough for the duo, who by now had come to depend on each others’ company. To reduce the spread of the virus, all bigs and littles were prevented from meeting in person, Kling said.
Even a few weekly phone calls weren’t enough to make up for in-person hangs and outdoor hobbies like archery or shooting.
For Kling, watching his new little brother grow into a man is a key part of their friendship and every moment is precious. In the two months that they have been apart, Austin is “almost taller than I am now.”
Both are ready to get back out on the range. Austin has his own bow now, and shoots almost as well as Kling.
‘Adding to your life’
In a world where life typically moves pretty fast, Kling empathizes with people who may be interested in becoming a mentor for the Big Brothers Big Sisters program but hesitate for fear of not being able to find the time. He used to be one of them. However, he urges those same people to reconsider–that the small amount of time taken out of the day is nothing compared to the potential positive impact they could make in a child’s life.
’It really isn’t that much (time). I mean, you see them on the weekends and stuff, and just for a couple of hours. It means so much to them, just to have that time to get out and do stuff, because most of them don’t have a father figure and whatnot. And the amount of positives that come out of their life with it—it’s so worth the four or five hours out of my time… Even the time that you do take, it’s not really taking it out of your life. It’s kind of adding to your life.”
Austin returns this sentiment in full. “I like him. He’s like a brother to me. Well, he is (one).”